OKLAHOMA CITY, May 19 (UPI) -- The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday approved a controversial piece of legislation that seeks to punish physicians in the state who perform abortions -- by making the practice a felony, punishable by as many as three years in state prison
Oklahoma Senate Bill No. 1552 was passed by a vote of 33-12 Thursday, which followed passage in the state's House of Representatives (59-9) last month. It now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk, but it's not exactly clear what the Republican leader will do with it.
Essentially, the bill outlaws the performing of all methods of abortion within the state, clinical, clandestine or otherwise. The only exceptions are cases in which failure to abort the fetus would endanger the mother's life. Cases of rape and incest would not be exempt from the law.
Any person convicted of having performed a pregnancy termination would be punished with between one and three years in a state prison. Physicians convicted under the law would have their license to practice in Oklahoma revoked, the bill says.
"Any physician participating in the performance of an abortion shall be prohibited from obtaining or renewing a license to practice medicine in this state," the text of the legislation states.
The bill's author, Sen. Nathan Dahm, reportedly said his hope is that the proposed law will be one step in a renewed process to ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade -- the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States.
"I believe it is a core function of state government to defend [a fetus'] life from the beginning of conception," Dahm said.
The Oklahoma Senate's only physician, Republican Ervin Yen, though, called the measure "insane" -- and said he fully expects it to be challenged in court. Other critics were also quick to condemn the move.
The proposed law would automatically be ratified if the governor doesn't take action, approval or veto, within five days. Many expect the governor, who has supported anti-abortion measures in the past, to sign off on the law.
If S.B. 1552 is signed into the books, analysts say it will almost certainly be challenged in court -- a prospect the author of the bill clearly expected, as well.
"In the event that any provision of this act is challenged in court in any action alleging a violation of either the Constitution of the United States of America or the State of Oklahoma, the Office of the Attorney General shall determine the amount of state or local funds expended to defend such action," the bill states.
Dahm said a legal group has already offered to defend the state pro bono if the law challenged in court -- a substantial help to a state that's already facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for fiscal 2017. A protracted legal battle, particularly one as high profile as this, would almost certainly run into the tens of millions of dollars.
"This is not a joke. Oklahoma lawmakers just passed a bill to revoke the medical licenses of any and all doctors who perform abortions," the organization wrote on its website Thursday. "The bill now heads to the governor's desk -- the same governor who tripled the forced delay for obtaining an abortion, who signed restrictions on medication abortion, AND who signed a Texas-style law designed to shut down health centers."
"This is a ban on abortion, plain and simple," the organization's executive vice president, Dawn Laguens, added. "Punishing doctors for performing a legal, medical procedure is an assault on women."
"Republicans in Oklahoma, as elsewhere, have morality upside down," Robert Reich, a member of former President Bill Clinton's cabinet, wrote on Facebook. "Instead of criminalizing a woman's right to choose, Republicans ought to criminalize CEOs who play fast and loose with their worker's safety, bankers who defraud their investors, and lawmakers who flout the U.S. Constitution (remember 'Roe versus Wade?') by criminalizing constitutional rights."
The Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group, similarly reacted with disappointment Thursday and sent Fallin a letter asking for a veto.
"The Center for Reproductive Rights strongly opposes Senate Bill 1552 and urges you to veto this blatantly unconstitutional measure," CPR Senior State Legislative Counsel for U.S. Policy Amanda Allen wrote in the letter. "This measure is harmful, discriminatory, clearly unconstitutional, and insulting to Oklahoma women and their families."
Oklahoma's recipe to make America great? Waste taxpayer money passing blatantly unconstitutional legislation to... https://t.co/RfjPGWWlAv— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) May 19, 2016
Allen called the proposed law "the most extreme abortion law in this country since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision."
"The Supreme Court has never wavered from [abortion's legal status], despite numerous opportunities to do so," she added. "By completely banning abortions, Senate Bill 1552 wholly conflicts with all U.S. Supreme Court precedent on abortion while ignoring the integral part that abortion plays in helping to achieve equality for women."
Earlier this year, Oklahoma Senate Minority Leader John Sparks said the proposal to criminalize abortion is unconstitutional in several ways, particularly because it's an ex post facto law -- meaning it could punish offenders retroactively.
"This obviously unconstitutional bill never will withstand legal scrutiny and is designed to scare doctors and shame women," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse G. Hogue, who also sent a letter to Fallin asking for a veto, said in a news release. "It is a shameful new low for the anti-choice movement."
If the legislation is signed by Fallin, and upheld by subsequent appellate courts, it will take effect Nov. 1.