Two aggressive anti-abortion bills in Oklahoma and Missouri are part of a wave of state-level measures across the United States seeking to sharply restrict access to abortion in the wake of a Texas law that effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.
The bills under consideration in Oklahoma and Missouri come as the fate of Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973, in the Supreme Court this summer remains unclear. Two of them go even further than Texas’ controversial six-week ban, with provisions that would follow a woman out of state or enact an almost total ban on the procedure.
The Oklahoma Senate last week passed six abortion-limiting bills, including one that mirrors the law passed in Texas and another that would ban abortions after 30 days from a woman’s last period. In Missouri, a number of anti-abortion measures have been introduced, including one that would allow someone to sue anyone who helps a resident get an abortion out of state.
Another Missouri bill, introduced by Republican Representative Brian Seitz, seeks to make manufacturing, producing, or prescribing medical devices or drugs used for abortions “in violation of any state or federal law” a Class B felony, which is punishable by a prison sentence of 5 to 15 years. Also under the bill, anyone who provides medication for the abortion of a pregnancy after 10 weeks or who provides an “abortion” on a woman with an ectopic pregnancy, in addition to other circumstances, would be guilty of a Class A felony, which includes a penalty of 10 years to life in prison.
That bill has drawn swift blowback from Democratic politicians, OBGYNs, and advocates for abortion for its inclusion of language on ectopic pregnancies, which occur when a fertilized egg is implanted outside the uterus. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable and can be life threatening to the woman if they’re not removed.
“HB 2810 is dangerous,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said in a statement. “This is what it looks like when uneducated politicians try and legislate our bodies. Ectopic pregnancies, if not treated promptly, become life-threatening. Banning any provision of care related to ectopic pregnancies will put people’s lives at risk.”
Discussing the reference of ectopic pregnancies in the Missouri bill, Seitz said at a public hearing last week that the measure “does nothing to curtail that legal activity, as it can present a clear and present danger to the mother.” Seitz also said during the hearing that he did not know how treating ectopic pregnancies worked.
Seitz told Bloomberg News in an e-mail that the bill has been “misrepresented” and that he plans to introduce an amendment to clarify its language.
“This bill does nothing to curtail that LEGAL activity, as it can present a clear and present danger to the mother,” Seitz wrote about the treatment of ectopic pregnancies. He added that the bill “is designed to curtail the illegal transportation, manufacture, sale, use, etc. of otherwise legal drugs.”
Seitz said during the hearing he was introducing the legislation in response to a decision from the Food and Drug Administration in December that allows abortion pills to be prescribed through telehealth and mailed to patients.
But despite the FDA’s shift, women in Missouri are still unable to access abortion medication by mail because the state bans telemedicine abortion. Plus, the only clinic in Missouri that performs abortions doesn’t dispense abortion-inducing medication because of a 2019 law that requires pelvic examinations before abortions.
“We consider this state mandated sexual assault and as a result, the one clinic remaining in our state no longer provides medication abortions,” said Mallory Schwarz, the executive director of Pro-Choice Missouri. The majority of abortion patients in Missouri go to Illinois to seek care, in addition to other states like Kentucky, Kansas, and Iowa, Schwarz added.
Caleb Rowden, Missouri’s Senate majority leader and a Republican, wrote on Twitter that “not all ‘pro-life’ bills are actually pro-life. If this bill makes it to the Missouri Senate, it’s [dead on arrival].”
Not all “pro-life” bills are actually pro-life.— Caleb Rowden (@calebrowden) March 11, 2022
If this bill makes it to the Missouri Senate, it is DOA. #MOLeg https://t.co/jsYm5elwO2
But the reference to ectopic pregnancies stems from a lack of understanding by Missouri anti-abortion politicians about pregnancy and abortions, Schwarz said, and the bill serves as a “distraction” from the other anti-abortion measures that are more likely to pass, including one that mirrors the Texas law.
“They are saying in this bill that they protect women by punishing people who give abortion pills to people with ectopic pregnancies, but that is meaningless because medication abortion pills are not a treatment for ectopic pregnancies,” Schwarz said, adding that the message that an ectopic pregnancy can be treated by abortion medication “threatens the lives of real pregnant people.”
Meanwhile, in addition to passing a bill similar to the Texas law, the Oklahoma Senate last week passed a bill that would ban abortions 30 days after a woman’s last period, before most people know they are pregnant. The average woman does not know she is pregnant until after 5 weeks, according to one study. The bills now move to the Republican-led House for consideration. Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Kevin Stitt has said he would sign any anti-abortion bill that reaches his desk.
The president of Oklahoma’s Senate Greg Treat, a Republican, in a statement praised the passage of a number of anti-abortion measures and said he hoped Roe v. Wade would be overturned.
“It is my sincere hope federal legal precedents allowing abortion are overturned, restoring Oklahoma’s ability to prohibit abortion once again,” the statement said. “Until that welcomed day, I will continue to lead the Oklahoma Senate to enact measures to save the lives of the unborn.”
In response to the passage of the six bills, Planned Parenthood noted that the Senate’s passage of a bill mirroring the six-week ban in Texas comes as Oklahoma has been a “lifeline” for women in Texas who are seeking abortions, noting abortion providers in Oklahoma have seen a nearly 2,500 percent increase in patients from Texas since the law went into effect and nearly half of all women in Texas who obtained an abortion out of the state went to Oklahoma.
“For six months, Oklahoma has been the central point of refuge for countless people forced to flee Texas for care,” Emily Wales, interim president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement. “We have seen firsthand the devastation caused when lawmakers put politics before patients’ rights. We’ve seen it in the faces of people who have traveled hundreds of miles, taken unpaid time off work, scrambled to find childcare, and often arrived alone, fearing that sharing with family and friends could put those individuals at risk under the law. Sadly, today the Senate moved one step closer to putting Oklahomans in the very same position.”
The consideration of the measures that would severely curb abortion access come as the Supreme Court, which has a 6-to-3 conservative majority, could erode or overturn Roe v. Wade when it rules on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case stems from a Mississippi law that would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Material from the Globe’s wire services was used in this report.
Amanda Kaufman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.