Oklahoma governor signs near-total abortion ban, threatens prison for providers

April 12 (Reuters) - Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on Tuesday signed a bill that makes it illegal to perform an abortion in the state except in medical emergencies, penalizing those who do with up to $100,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.

The legislation, which is one of several anti-abortion measures advanced by the state's Republican-controlled legislature this year, will take effect this summer unless it is blocked in court.

"We want to choose life in Oklahoma. We do not want to allow abortions in the state of Oklahoma," Stitt said as he signed the bill at a news conference.

If it takes effect, the ban will widen a swath of the country where there is little to no legal abortion access. Oklahoma has become a frequent destination for Texas women seeking abortions since the larger neighboring state in September banned abortions for pregnancies from about six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Planned Parenthood abortion providers in Oklahoma saw a nearly 2,500% increase in Texas patients in the months after the Texas law took effect compared to the same period in 2020, the organization said.

"The ban signed today is cruel and if it takes effect this summer, will have a devastating impact on people in Oklahoma, neighboring Texans, as well as an entire region facing attacks on their rights to abortion access," Melissa Fowler, the National Abortion Federation's chief program officer, said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki condemned the ban in a statement and called on Congress to pass legislation that would codify abortion rights nationally.

"The actions today in Oklahoma are a part of disturbing national trend attacking women’s rights and the Biden Administration will continue to stand with women in Oklahoma and across the country in the fight to defend their freedom to make their own choices about their futures," Psaki said.

Separate legislation introduced in Oklahoma this year proposes banning almost all abortions and relying on private citizens to sue any person who "aids or abets" abortions, similar to Texas' six-week abortion ban. That bill contains an emergency clause, which would allow it to take effect immediately once it is signed by the governor.

In the past few months, Republican-led states like Oklahoma have been quickly passing ever-stricter abortion bans with the anticipation that an impending U.S. Supreme Court decision could help the bans withstand legal challenges.

The Supreme Court is due to rule by the end of June on a case involving a Republican-backed Mississippi law that gives its conservative majority a chance to undermine or even repeal the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

During arguments in the case, the conservative justices signaled a willingness to dramatically curtail abortion rights in the United States.

Reporting by Gabriella Borter Editing by Bill Berkrot

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Gabriella Borter is a reporter on the U.S. National Affairs team, covering cultural and political issues as well as breaking news. She has won two Front Page Awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York - in 2020 for her beat reporting on healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2019 for her spot story on the firing of the police officer who killed Eric Garner. The latter was also a Deadline Club Awards finalist. She holds a B.A. in English from Yale University and joined Reuters in 2017.