The House of Representatives unanimously approved a measure Wednesday that would allow a woman to bring a lawsuit against abortion providers and prescribers of abortion-inducing drugs or chemicals for not following voluntary and informed consent provisions of state law related to abortions.
House Bill 2561, which passed the House 89-0 with no debate or discussion, now heads to the governor for her approval. It passed the Senate last week 33-9.
A Senate amendment to the measure removed liability for doctors who refer a woman with a problem pregnancy to an abortion provider unless they knew the abortion provider had violated the state's informed consent law.
“If you're a doctor, you'd better Google and find out who you're referring to,” said Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, the author of HB 2561.
Wesselhoft, R-Moore, said abortion providers or those prescribing abortion-inducing drugs could be sued by failing to follow state law that requires an ultrasound image and heart tone monitoring be provided before an abortion is performed. They also must inform the parents if the woman is a minor, he said. Parents are to be notified at least 48 hours in advance before a minor can receive an abortion.
The woman, or her parents or guardian if she is a minor, could file a lawsuit for actual and punitive damages equal to those for the wrongful death of a child whose life was aborted. It can include damages for mental anguish and emotional distress. Any lawsuit would have to be filed within two years of the abortion.
The lawsuit could be filed because of something that went wrong during the abortion or if the abortion provider violated voluntary and informed consent provisions of state law related to abortions.
Wesselhoft called HB 2561 one of the toughest anti-abortion measures passed by the Legislature.
“It will hold the abortionist accountable for wrongful death for the first time” for violating the state's informed consent law, he said.
“That's probably going to cause abortion clinics to have better insurance,” Wesselhoft said. “If I was an abortionist, I would videotape everything I said to the young girl in order to protect me.”
Wesselhoft said he is hoping the measure, if signed into law, would result in fewer abortions being performed in Oklahoma.
Ryan Kiesel, a former Democratic state lawmaker who is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said the purpose of the bill is to intimidate abortion providers.
“There seems to be no other reason for singling them out for special treatment in our malpractice laws,” he said. “Any doctor, whether they're an abortion provider or otherwise, ought to be held responsible for their professional negligence.
“It seems odd to me that the Legislature, which has worked for years and years trying to limit liability for negligent physicians have gone out of their way in this bill to make it easier to file lawsuits against doctors that provide reproductive health care services,” Kiesel said.
Wesselhoft said HB 2561 received little notice because of all the attention given to personhood legislation this year.
A proposed personhood bill stated that life begins at conception; backers said it was a statement that Oklahomans value life but opponents said it could have led to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research. The measure died when it didn't get a hearing in the House.
“This bill has teeth,” Wesselhoft said. “The personhood bill sent a strong moral message.”