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Oklahoma lawmakers approve bills restricting abortions

[JURIST] The Oklahoma State Senate [official website] voted to approve five anti-abortion bills on Monday, sending three to Governor Brad Henry [official website] for his approval and returning two to the Oklahoma State House of Representatives [official website]. The first bill [HB 2526 text, RTF] would prevent "wrongful life" lawsuits in which parents seek damages for a child born with a birth defect because the mother was unable to obtain an abortion. The second bill [HB 2780 text, RTF] would require doctors to conduct a vaginal ultrasound at least one hour prior to an abortion while displaying and explaining the images. The third bill [HB 3075 text, RTF] would require any facility conducting abortions to post a sign stating that it is against the law to be forced to have an abortion. Pending House approval, two additional bills would require a woman to answer 38 questions [HB 3284 text, RTF], including why she is seeking an abortion, and prohibit state health plans from covering elective abortions [HB 3290 text, RTF]. Senate Republican Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee [official website] praised the bills [press release] saying, "Oklahomans have consistently voted and called for measures like these, and today we have held true to Oklahoma values." If approved by Henry, the bills would give Oklahoma the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Earlier this month, Henry signed three anti-abortion bills into law [JURIST report], prohibiting abortions performed because of the gender of the fetus, protecting medical employees who refuse to participate in procedures such as abortion based on religious beliefs, and regulating a chemical used in abortion procedures. The measures signed by the governor and the provisions of the bills passed Monday were previously included in a larger state law struck down [JURIST report] by the Oklahoma Supreme Court [official website] last month for violating the Oklahoma Constitution [text], which requires legislation to be limited to one subject. In February, an Oklahoma state court ruled [JURIST report] that a different state law [HB 1595, PDF], making it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion based on the gender of a fetus and requiring numerous reporting requirements, also violated the state constitution's single subject requirement. The Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website], which initially filed lawsuits against the bills, has indicated that it will challenge the constitutionality of the separated bills. Staff Attorney Stephanie Toti criticized the laws [JURIST comment], arguing that "they violate a myriad of constitutional principles, from freedom of speech to due process to equal protection of the law."

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