Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday signed into law a bill banning abortion after cardiac activity is detected, which is usually at six weeks of pregnancy.
The measure, S.B. 1503 or the “Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” comes into effect immediately. Exceptions apply in cases of a medical emergency, but do not apply for pregnancies due to incest or rape.
“I want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country because I represent all 4 million Oklahomans who overwhelmingly want to protect the unborn,” Stitt, a Republican, said on Twitter.
The Oklahoma Heartbeat Act was passed by the Republican-led Oklahoma legislature before its signing. The Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier in the day declined to block the law’s enforcement pending the outcome of litigation challenging it.
The law is modeled after a similar Texas law in its enforcement mechanism, requiring private citizens to mount civil lawsuits against providers or any person who “aids or abets” an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Those filing the lawsuits have up to six years since the alleged abortion to do so. They can win up to $10,000 in civil damages for each abortion case. The mother involved in the abortion is not subject to any civil actions.
Oklahoma is now the second U.S. state with a law in effect similar to that of the Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which has withstood legal challenges since it took effect in September 2021.
Because no state officials are involved in enforcing the law, abortion providers have found it difficult to bring legal challenges against particular individuals. On March 11, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that state officials do not have the authority to enforce the abortion ban, which effectively ends the abortion clinics’ federal legal challenge to the law.
Oklahoma had become a frequent destination for those who were previously seeking to have an abortion from Texas. Planned Parenthood abortion providers in Oklahoma saw a nearly 2,500 percent increase in Texas patients in the months after the Texas law took effect compared to the same period in 2020, the organization said. The latest Oklahoma abortion ban means people will have to go elsewhere if they want an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
It’s just one of several pro-life measures the Oklahoma legislature passed this session in hopes that at least one will withstand legal challenges. Earlier in April, Stitt enacted SB 612, a ban on nearly all abortions that threatens prison time for abortion providers. The measure is due to take effect in August.
The U.S. Supreme Court now appears ready to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, per a leaked draft of the high court’s majority opinion published by Politico on Monday. Roe v. Wade has for decades prohibited states from banning abortions prior to when the fetus is considered “viable,” deemed to be at about 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Reuters contributed to this report.