OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — While Oklahoma's attorney general is fighting in court to defend two anti-abortion bills passed by the Legislature last year, state lawmakers have introduced several new abortion measures for the 2015 session.
Among those filed this year are bills to prohibit certain late-term abortions, require doctors to inform pregnant women about the fetal heartbeat, and require women seeking an abortion to have certain information provided to them at least three days before the procedure. A related bill would make it a felony to perform research using stem cells.
Under current Oklahoma law, a doctor who performs an abortion is required to provide a patient with numerous details at least 24 hours before the procedure. The information includes the age of the fetus, risks involved and that ultrasound and heart tone monitoring are available. A bill by Rep. Lisa Billy, a Lindsay Republican, would increase the amount of prior notice from 24 to 72 hours before the abortion is performed.
"The ramifications of a decision to have an abortionist take the life of an unborn child are so serious and so irrevocable, we believe that the mother would benefit from more time to reflect on the gravity of the decision and the consequences of taking that step," said Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life, which pushes anti-abortion measures in the state every year.
Abortion rights groups say they're particularly concerned about the 72-hour bill because it places a barrier between a woman and legally available medical care.
Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, said only three other states have such "extreme waiting periods" for women seeking an abortion.
"Every year, Oklahoma politicians advance bills designed to drastically reduce abortion services in the state under the guise of promoting women's health and safety," Allen said. "And every year, women have had to rely on the courts to block these underhanded efforts and keep their trusted health centers open."
Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights are actively challenging two laws passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last year that have been temporarily put on hold until lawsuits challenging their constitutionality have been settled. One required abortion providers to have a physician with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when abortions are performed. The other prohibited off-label uses of abortion-inducing drugs by requiring doctors to administer them only in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocols.
Rep. Billy's 72-hour bill and a separate measure that would make it illegal to conduct stem cell research in Oklahoma are scheduled for a hearing by a House committee on Wednesday.
Rep. Doug Cox, an emergency room physician from northeast Oklahoma, said he wished his Republican colleagues in the Legislature would stop introducing bills that prevent a woman's access to a safe and legal medical procedure.
"By doing so we've cost the Oklahoma taxpayers a lot of money as we continue to fight in court to defend the constitutionality of these laws," said Cox, a Republican from Grove. "And our track record of winning those cases isn't very good. Money is tight here, and we need to look at finding money to fund education, not spending money on these issues."
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