Two states could soon pass six-week abortion bans, becoming the first states to mirror Texas, whose ban outlawed the procedure for the majority of people when it went into effect six months ago.
State Senate committees in Oklahoma and Idaho have already approved six-week abortion bans. Like in Texas, those would be enforced via civil lawsuits brought by private citizens. Idaho’s full state Senate is expected to vote on its legislation, Senate Bill 1309, this week. It’s not clear when Oklahoma’s senators will vote on their ban, Senate Bill 1503, though advocates in the state expect it to happen soon.
The bills have yet to go through their respective state House of Representatives. But in both states, Republicans hold large majorities across the state legislature. A spokesperson for Idaho Gov. Brad Little told The 19th the office would not comment on any pending bills, but Little has said publicly that he supports abortion restrictions in general. Kevin Stitt, the Oklahoma governor, has previously said he would sign any anti-abortion bill sent to his desk.
Texas’ law, Senate Bill 8, has offered a blueprint for other states looking to bypass precedent set by Roe v. Wade, which guarantees the right to an abortion up until a fetus can independently live outside the womb, something that typically occurs around 23 to 25 weeks of pregnancy.
The Texas law uses a novel structure, deputizing private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone they suspect performed or helped somone obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The threat of a financially ruinous lawsuit has resulted in Texas abortion providers no longer offering the service to anyone who is past six weeks — early enough that many people do not realize they have conceived.
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Oklahoma’s bill is virtually the same. Anyone who “aids or abets” the provision of an abortion past six weeks — a friend who helped drive someone to an abortion, someone who provided money to pay for the procedure, a health care provider — could be successfully sued for at least $10,000. Any private individual could sue. An “emergency” provision in the bill would allow it to take effect as soon as it is signed into law.
“We were not anticipating it would move this quickly, so this is really shocking and scary because of how quickly we could potentially lose abortion access in Oklahoma,” said Myfanwy Jensen-Fellows, the director of advocacy for Trust Women, which operates abortion clinics in Tulsa and Wichita, Kansas.
Idaho’s bill has, on paper, a narrower punitive framework. The right to sue is extended to only the individual who gets an abortion or their family — parents, their other children, their siblings or in-laws, and whoever helped conceive the fetus. Only the doctor who provided the abortion can be sued, and the minimum penalty is $20,000.
But advocates say it would still effectively eliminate abortion for most people in the state. Planned Parenthood, which operates Idaho’s three abortion clinics, has said it would not offer the procedure after six weeks if the state’s bill takes effect, and said they are unsure if there is enough time for them to levy a legal challenge against the ban. Clinics in Oklahoma also said they would comply with the ban if it takes effect.
“This will absolutely lead to an almost complete elimination of abortion access in Idaho,” said Lisa Humes-Schulz, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Northwest, the organization’s regional advocacy arm.
Idaho’s bill would take effect 30 days after it is signed by the governor. So depending on when the Idaho Senate votes on their bill, and on how long the state’s House of Representatives takes to consider the legislation, the state’s ban could be in effect in as little as six weeks.
The timeline on Oklahoma’s bill is unclear, but advocates and clinics in the state are preparing for the ban to take effect as early as April. That leaves little time to figure out how clinics will respond, what to tell patients and whether there is any option to challenge the legislation in court.
Texas offers a preview of what might happen if either Idaho’s or Oklahoma’s bill goes into effect. In its first month in effect, the Texas law resulted in abortions plummetting by 60 percent. More recent data is not yet available, but researchers expect the number of abortions to decline even further.
Clinics in neighboring states have seen their patient volumes double or even triple as more Texans travel out-of-state for care. The deluge in patients means there is often a month-long wait for an appointment. In Oklahoma, Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics have seen an increase of Texas-based patients by almost 2,500 percent. Most of Trust Women’s Oklahoma City patients now come from Texas. Wait times for appointments have ballooned, meaning that many Oklahomans are already traveling out of state to get abortions at Trust Women’s Wichita clinic.
Oklahoma’s ban could push both Texans and Oklahomans to have to travel further for abortions, said Tamya Cox-Toure, executive director of the ACLU Oklahama. The next closest options for care are likely Kansas, Arkansas and Colorado — journeys that many will not be able to afford and that can be complicated by logistics.
“When you consider how many people, not just Oklahomans, rely on the clinics there for care, and how much further they’re going to have to go if this ban takes effect, it’s going to be absolutely devastating for the region,” said Olivia Cappello, a spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
If Idaho’s ban passes, patients would probably have to travel to Washington, Oregon, Wyoming or Montana for care, going an average of 250 miles each way for an abortion, said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state policy for the Guttmacher Institute, a national reproductive health policy organization. Already, two-thirds of Idahoans live in a county without an abortion-providing clinic, per Guttmacher.
Still, both states could see abortion access restricted even further. The Supreme Court is currently weighing a major abortion rights challenge, a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that examines the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban passed in Mississippi. A decision is expected in June or July, and many observers expect the court will use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade either partially or entirely.
If that case is overturned, Oklahoma, Idaho and Texas have stricter laws on the books: a so-called “trigger law,” that could outlaw all abortions.