Oklahoma is fourth state to ban abortions after 20 weeks

OKLAHOMA CITY Wed Apr 20, 2011 7:56pm EDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed into law a measure prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, making it the fourth state to ban such late term abortions.

She also signed a law preventing health insurers from covering elective abortions.

Fallin, a Republican serving her first term as the state's chief executive, said both laws are important measures that safeguard life.

"I believe in the sanctity of human life and the responsibility of our lawmakers to protect life," she said. "Together, these two pieces of legislation will expand protections for unborn children and ensure that Oklahomans are not forced to unknowingly or unwillingly help to pay for procedures that run contrary to their values."

Barbara Santee, former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice America's Oklahoma office, called the two laws "a frontal assault" on the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

"This is just chipping away at a woman's right to choose," she said.

The law prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks is based on the belief that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Nebraska passed such a law last year, and Idaho and Kansas did so this year. About a dozen other states are considering similar measures.

The Oklahoma law allows abortions when the mother's life is at risk or she faces serious risk of substantial physical harm.

Violations of the law are a felony for abortion providers, but women who undergo the prohibited abortions would not be penalized.

The other measure signed into law by Fallin prohibits health insurance companies from offering coverage of elective abortions in standard policies sold in the state. Elective abortion insurance coverage could still be obtained, but only by paying a separate premium for optional supplemental coverage.

Legislators in 23 other states are seeking similar insurance restrictions for elective abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that tracks women's health issues.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)

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