A bill proposed by a Republican legislator would criminalize abortion in Oklahoma, allow women who undergo the procedure to be sentenced to life in prison and would allow medical or pharmacy employees to deny women an abortion even when the woman would die without one.
Senate Bill 13, proposed by Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, would “provide to unborn children … the same rights powers privileges justice and protections as are secured or granted by the laws of this state to any other person.”
Silk, who sits on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, proposed a similar bill in 2017 which ultimately failed.
In June a 38-page report, published by the Oklahoma Department of Health, reported that abortions in Oklahoma rose in 2017 after several years of having been in decline.
The report stated that 4,723 abortions were performed in Oklahoma last year, up from 4,294 in 2016.
It’s unclear how the state’s overloaded prison system, which already has a female incarceration rate twice that of the nation average, would handle potentially thousands of new female prisoners, if the law were to pass.
Earlier this month the Ohio House of Representatives passed what has been called one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country.
The bill, which was approved by a vote of 60-35, would penalize doctors for performing an abortion “when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.”
Fetal heartbeats are detectable as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
The bill has yet to pass the state’s Republican-lead Senate, though Rep. Christina Hagan, who sponsored the bill, said she was confident it would be made into law.
In 2016 a similar bill was passed by both the Ohio House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich. Kasich said at the time that similar bills in other states had been declared unconstitutional by federal judges.
But Hagan told the New York Times this month she believed Ohio now had a Republican majority strong enough to “overcome that veto.”
The bill proposed by Silk appears to be even more restrictive than Ohio’s proposed law.
While the Ohio law targeted doctors who would perform an abortion, Silk’s proposed bill would allow for wrongful death civil lawsuits to be filed against women who have an abortion as well as the physicians who perform abortions.
Silk’s bill would also requires district attorneys to file criminal charges against women who are discovered to have had an abortion and the doctor who provided it, and would allow for a sentence of up to life in prison. It also outlaws hospitals and clinics from providing abortion services.
Silk’s bill also requires that the Oklahoma Attorney General ensure that all abortions performed result in criminal charges being filed against the women and physicians.
Further, the bill would not allow genetic counselors to be penalized if they fail to mention abortion as an option to a pregnant woman, even if it is likely the mother would die without one. It also prohibits employers, such as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, from discriminating against employees who refuse to provide or induce abortions even when the woman would die without one.
The bill also removes a provision from that section of the law stating that contraceptives are not considered abortion, and would prohibit discrimination by an employer if an employee refuses to prescribe or provide contraception to individuals.
The bill also prohibits any state agency or offer from showing up to court if a federal lawsuit is ever filed against the state challenging the law.
“Any federal statute, regulation, executive order or court decision which purports to supersede, stay or overrule this Act is in violation of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma and the Constitution of the United States of America and is therefore void,” the bill states.
The bill further proclaims itself to be “irreversible,” should it be passed and signed into law.
In 2016 Silk was criticized for offering legislation that would have made it illegal for someone to use a restroom assigned to the opposite gender. That bill, which ultimately failed, was proposed around the time of many so-called “bathroom bills” that appeared to target transgender citizens. It would have made it unlawful “for a person to use a gender-specific restroom when that person’s biological gender is contrary to that of the gender-specific restroom.”
In 2017 he authored a bill — the “Oklahoma Right of Conscience Act” — that appeared to be in response to the Colorado case where a baker was sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. The bill would have made it legal to deny services for “a marriage ceremony or celebration of a specific lifestyle or behavior.”
That bill was eventually killed by the Senate.
Also in 2017 a bill proposed by Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, who described pregnant women as “hosts” for the fetus, would have required women seeking an abortion to get permission from the father before having the procedure completed.
The legislation would have required women to obtain written consent from the baby’s father as well as to identify the father in writing to her physician before having an abortion. It would not have applied in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life was in danger.
Humphrey’s bill never received a vote on the House floor.