Oklahoma's 'unconscionable' new abortion laws

Oklahoma women considering an abortion must now hear a 'detailed description' of their fetus—even if they were raped. A guide to the bombshell rulings

Oklahoma's controversial abortion law protects doctors who neglect to tell parents about a baby's genetic defects.
(Image credit: Corbis)

Provoking pro-choice advocates, Oklahoma has passed into law two highly restrictive abortion measures. One requires doctors to show women an ultrasound of their fetus and point out its physical characteristics—even if the patient was impregnated through rape or incest. (Watch a news report about the abortion controversy.) Here's how these "extreme" measures came about:

Was the bill passed easily?

No. The state's Democratic Gov. Brad Henry initially vetoed the bill, but, this week, Oklahoma's legislature voted 32–12 to overrule Henry's veto and make the bill law.

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What is fueling the controversy?

The first measure, which legally requires doctors to give any pregnant woman considering an abortion an ultrasound probe, plus a "detailed description of the fetus," before she makes her final decision.

How "detailed"?

The doctor must "describe the heart, limbs, and organs of the fetus."

What about the second measure?

It stipulates that doctors cannot be sued if they decide not to tell an expectant mother that her baby has birth defects.

What are the bill's detractors saying?

Gov. Henry called the law's first measure an "unconstitutional invasion of privacy" and condemned the second as "unconscionable." Claire Potter at Tenured Radical suggests that forcing women to undergo an ultrasound probe against their will meets "the technical statutory definition of rape in Oklahoma."

How do the bill's supporters respond?

They say it prevents women from making ill-informed decisions and protects doctors from being sued for following their religious beliefs. Glenn Coffee, the Republican majority leader of the state legislature, called the overturning of the veto a "good day for the cause of life."

What's next?

Henry says the bill is unconstitutional and will likely be overturned in court. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-choice group, has already filed a lawsuit. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is preparing to vote on another anti-abortion bill that would require women to fill out a survey about their decision.

Is Oklahoma unique in having such stringent abortion laws?

Although these measures are "considered some of the strictest in the country," says NPR, Florida legislators are readying a similar bill. And in Missouri, lawmakers are mulling a bill that would actually require women to listen to their unborn child's heartbeat "if the heartbeat is audible."

Sources: New York Times, CNN, Prospect, Tenured Radical, NPR

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