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Oklahoma's new abortion law could create a domino effect across the region


Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has signed into law the nation's toughest abortion restrictions. Performing an abortion is now a felony, punishable by up to a decade in prison. As reporter Catherine Sweeney explains, the new law could also create a domino effect throughout the region.

CATHERINE SWEENEY, BYLINE: Stitt signed that bill amid fanfare and reiterated his pledge to sign each of the several abortion restriction bills expected to cross his desk.


KEVIN STITT: We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country. We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma.

SWEENEY: Without legal challenges, it would go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends in May. That would be after the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on Mississippi's law, which bans most abortions after about 15 weeks of pregnancy. If that law stands, the court would be effectively overturning Roe v. Wade and the protections that case guarantees. Oklahoma has seen a surge in abortion demand since last year, when Texas passed a law that banned the vast majority of abortions in the state.

REBECCA TONG: As soon as SB 8 went into place, we began to see ten times as many Texas patients than the previous month.

SWEENEY: That's Rebecca Tong, the co-executive director of Trust Women, an organization that provides abortion services. She said there's a wide discrepancy between the number of people who need those services and the ones who actually get them.

TONG: Our phones are ringing all day long - multiple phone lines. I mean, many people who try to reach us never even get through.

SWEENEY: It's not easy to get an abortion in Oklahoma. There aren't enough providers in the sprawling state. Tong says this disproportionately affects people on the fringes with low access to health care. Their average patient is already a parent, has no health insurance and has to plan extensively for the visit. She says outlawing the procedure in Oklahoma would mean even more strain, but mostly on low-income people. Wealthier patients...

TONG: They'll be able to hop on a flight and go to California or, God forbid, in the future, hop on a flight and have to go to Canada, right?

SWEENEY: She and other abortion rights advocates noted that the bills are nothing new in Oklahoma. But they're preparing for a world where court challenges won't block them.

TAMYA COX-TOURE: We've always had maps up of what access could look like if Roe were to fall.

SWEENEY: That's Tamya Cox-Toure, executive director of ACLU, Oklahoma and a longtime abortion rights advocate. She says there's an old saying.

COX-TOURE: How goes Oklahoma goes the rest of the South. And we're seeing that.

SWEENEY: The dominoes started with Texas and could continue later this year if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds restrictions passed in Mississippi.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Sweeney in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Catherine Sweeney