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Oklahoma Governor Faces Tough Decision On 'Sweeping' Anti-Abortion Bill


The abortion debate in Oklahoma has reached a new level. The state legislature has passed a bill that would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion. It is already being called the most stringent anti-abortion bill in the country. Rachel Hubbard of member station KOSU reports there is mounting pressure on the governor to sign it into law.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: The Center for Reproductive Rights has sued Oklahoma eight times over its abortion laws in the last six years. The center says this new bill is unprecedented and ready for a lawsuit. The bill the state Senate passed and sent to the governor yesterday would make it a crime for a physician to perform an abortion in Oklahoma, and it would revoke the doctor's license. Doug Cox is a physician that, and he's also a Republican state lawmaker in Oklahoma.

DOUG COX: As a physician, I've dealt with things that the legislature never deals with - real-life conversations that take place behind closed doors. And I resent the legislature trying to step in and interfere, put the government standing between me and my patients.

HUBBARD: Cox is quick to say he's pro-life. He's never performed an abortion, and he doesn't plan to. But he says criminalizing doctors is outrageous. His Republican colleague in the Oklahoma state House, David Brumbaugh, authored the bill. He says the frenzy created since yesterday's passage is a big misunderstanding. He says it doesn't criminalize doctors. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on that.

DAVID BRUMBAUGH: Those provisions are already in statute, and they've been in statute since almost the beginning of statehood. With Roe V Wade, nobody's doing that at this point.

HUBBARD: But the bill's language is clear. It reads, (reading) no person shall perform an abortion upon a pregnant woman. A person that violates this section shall be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not less than one year in the state penitentiary.

The bill goes on to say any physician that performs an abortion won't be able to renew a medical license or get one ever again in Oklahoma. And that's what Brumbaugh says it's all about - licensing. And licensing of physicians is a state's right, he says.

BRUMBAUGH: We're trying to, you know, weather the storm by doing the right things because it's not a federal issue. It's a state issue. And the state has an interest in the public safety and health of its citizens.

HUBBARD: Doug Cox, the physician legislator, worries about the unintended consequences. He says the state might not have to worry about licensing if this bill becomes law because Oklahoma already has a shortage of physicians.

COX: This is a little bit of an embarrassment to, I think, myself thing as a physician. It makes it very hard to attract young physicians to come to a state where the government wants to interfere with their ability to practice.

HUBBARD: Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin still has four days to decide what to do. She's not commented on this bill, but has signed several other anti-abortion bills before. If it does become law, the Liberty Counsel has already promised to defend it for free. The Coalition for Reproductive Justice is planning a rally outside the governor's home tomorrow, begging her to veto the bill. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Hubbard in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Hubbard is a 20-year news veteran and serves as KOSU's executive director.

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