Oklahoma legislature passes nation's strictest abortion ban, starting from the moment of fertilization

AP Photo/Steve Helber

This came on the same day that the world’s richest Republican voter shared this thought.


The GOP doesn’t need to moderate when inflation is driving centrist voters by the millions into its camp. And it certainly doesn’t need to moderate in a state as red as Oklahoma to keep winning elections there.

Even so, the bill that passed Oklahoma’s legislature today is potentially risky *if* you think there’s a fifth vote in the Supreme Court’s anti-Roe majority that might be wavering. It could be that Kavanaugh or Barrett or whoever was comfortable signing onto Alito’s draft opinion because they expected most states would settle on some middle-ground compromise on abortion — legal after 12 weeks, total ban after that, for instance. Having Oklahoma explode that illusion could conceivably force that wavering fifth vote to reconsider.

But c’mon. Surely Kavanaugh and Barrett aren’t so naive that they don’t realize we’re headed for a bisected country where abortion is totally banned in many red states and legal to the bitter end in many blue ones. This is the ultimate culture war, and in a culture war you’re supposed to be staunch in defense of your side’s values. That’s how we got Gavin Newsom vowing to make California a — ugh — “sanctuary” for abortion rights in America. And how we got this new bill from Oklahoma. In a democracy, you don’t compromise to try to find a solution that all sides can tolerate. You win.


The Oklahoma bill (or rather, the latest Oklahoma bill) is modeled on Texas’s abortion law allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers for terminating a pregnancy after six weeks. But it’s stricter, permitting lawsuits for any termination performed starting at the moment an egg is fertilized. It’s not limited to abortion providers either. Anyone who aids and abets an abortion, including by helping to pay for it, or who even intends to do so can be sued. Does that mean you can be hauled into court if you donate to a nonprofit that helps pay for a woman in Oklahoma to travel for an abortion? Beats me. SCOTUS should start thinking about it, though.

The Oklahoma bill would allow civilian lawsuits against anyone who helps pay for an abortion, which could implicate people across the country who have been donating to charitable organizations that help women in restrictive states get abortions elsewhere.

Those who sue successfully would be given awards of at least $10,000, and compensatory damages including for “emotional distress.”…

The bill defines an unborn child as “a human fetus or embryo in any stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.” Anti-abortion groups, believing abortion to be murder, have tried unsuccessfully since the Roe decision to pass federal or state legislation defining life as beginning at fertilization. Abortion rights supporters have argued that this would effectively ban contraceptive methods that prevent implantation, such as an intrauterine device, but the Oklahoma bill specifies that it does not apply to contraception.


Notably, the woman seeking the abortion can’t be sued under the law. And Oklahoma’s bill allows for exceptions in the case of medical emergencies as well as for rape and incest — provided that the rape or incest is reported to the police. A woman who declines to come forward and tell the authorities, as many do, will have to travel out of state.

Does the law apply to IVF if a fertilized egg is later destroyed for whatever reason? Unclear for now.

This isn’t the first or even the second abortion ban that Oklahoma’s legislature has passed this year. It’s the third. The first basically duplicated Texas’s six-week law; the second, signed just last month, made it a felony to perform an abortion in Oklahoma with no exceptions for rape or incest. I’m not sure what the point of the bill that passed today is, then, unless its primary targets are those who are “aiding and abetting” the abortions rather than those directly providing them. But the flurry of bans is having the desired effect: Of Oklahoma’s four abortion clinics, two stopped performing abortions after the six-week law took effect and the other two are planning to go offline once this new one is signed by the governor.

That’s big news for women in Oklahoma, of course, but also for women in Texas, who began seeking abortions in Oklahoma after Texas’s six-week ban took effect. Now they’ll have to travel further. A staffer at a clinic in Minneapolis(!) told NPR that a third of its patients currently come from Texas but that’s bound to increase in light of OK’s new regime. Clinics in other blue states are scrambling to add capacity, with one in Illinois expecting demand to rise 40 percent before the year is out if Roe falls and southern states immediately move to enact bans.


Most of the polls on abortion taken since Alito’s draft was leaked have showed no effect on the midterms, which is unsurprising in a country consumed by inflation. But this shift in today’s new Marist poll is noteworthy:

The poll shows that two-thirds of Democrats say the contents of the leak make them more likely to vote in November, as compared to just 40% of Republicans who said so…

Democrats also got a boost on which party Americans want to control Congress. By a 47%-to-42% margin, this survey showed voters would cast their ballot in favor of a Democrat in their local congressional district if the election were held today.

For Democrats, that is a net increase on the so-called congressional ballot test of 8 points from last month’s survey, when 47% said they would vote for a Republican, as compared to 44% who said they would vote for a Democrat.

From a three-point Republican lead on the generic ballot to a five-point Democratic lead. That’s an outlier, but Democrats have suddenly led in three of the last four generic ballot polls tracked by RCP. And today’s Republican lead of 1.9 points in the RCP average is the smallest since January:

None of that makes Democrats favorite in the midterms, Nate Silver notes, but small shifts in the generic ballot due to a backlash to Dobbs could cost the GOP a meaningful number of seats in the Senate. And if a backlash is under way, it’s possible that it’s only just begun. The actual Dobbs decision could goose Democratic numbers further, as could strict bans being passed in red states. Realistically, this issue is the only chance the left will have before fall to blunt the force of the red wave.


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