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Oklahoma governor signs 2 anti-abortion bills

House Bill 1888 outlaws abortions after 20 weeks, making Oklahoma one of the strictest anti-abortion states in the nation. Senate Bill 547 ensures that standard health insurance policies sold in Oklahoma do not include elective abortion coverage.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: April 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm •  Published: April 20, 2011

A bill banning abortions after 20 weeks that was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mary Fallin is unconstitutional, an attorney with a New York group that has successfully challenged previous Oklahoma anti-abortion laws said.

Fallin defended the measure. She also signed into law a bill that would prevent health insurance policies sold in the state from covering elective abortions.

“I stand behind our Legislature,” she said. “If it gets challenged, so be it.”

House Bill 1888 would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Oklahoma is the third state to restrict abortions on the basis of fetal pain. Nebraska passed an identical measure last year; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last week signed a measure that bans abortion after 21 weeks.

Abortions now are allowed up to 24 weeks. After that, they can be provided only because of serious health issues.

Under review

Jordan Goldberg, Center for Reproductive Rights states advocacy counsel, said the measure is unconstitutional but withheld comment whether her group would file a legal challenge. She said both measures are under review.

The center has a pending lawsuit challenging legislation passed last year that requires women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds. It succeeded in overturning a similar proposal in 2009.

“It's clear that the people proposing all of these different bills would like to make abortion if not illegal than inaccessible to most women,” she said.

“Certainly they're chipping away at the rights and access at any way that they can. They're going to try to do that, but we're not necessarily going to let them get away with that. Each of these bills will be looked at on their own merits, and we will certainly consider litigation when we need to.”

Fetal age

HB 1888 also requires abortion providers to determine fetal age before an abortion. The bill exempts situations in which the life of the mother is at risk or when the mother faces “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment.”

“This bill has truly caught up with medical science,” said Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, author of HB 1888.

“We have the medical evidence that these 20-week-old fetuses ... have all the neurons and neuron transmitters to be able to feel pain. If an unborn child is capable of feeling pain, this is a matter of human compassion.”

Goldberg called the measure bad policy.

“It puts the Legislature between a woman and her doctor at a time when women really need all the information and need to be able to make medical decisions that are right for them and their families,” she said. “It ignores women's individual circumstances, and basically it is the Legislature deciding that they make better decisions for women than they do themselves.”

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