Mary Fallin
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has not said if she plans to sign the abortion bill.Reuters

Oklahoma legislators passed a bill on Thursday (19 May) that would criminalise abortions and revoke the medical licenses of any doctor who assisted in one. The controversial measure now heads to Governor Mary Fallin, who has five days to decide whether she will sign the bill into state law.

Opponents of the bill, known as Senate Bill 1552, argue it is unconstitutional and unprecedented, The Washington Post reported. The measure would make performing an abortion in the state a felony, punishable by one to three years imprisonment in the state penitentiary.

Physicians who participate in an abortion—considered "unprofessional conduct" in the measure—would be "prohibited from obtaining or renewing a license to practice medicine in this state."

However, doctors who perform an abortion that is deemed necessary to save the mother's life would not be penalised. States have never passed measures such as the proposed Oklahoma bill, instead opting to ban the procedure without attaching penalties, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Governor Fallin spokesperson, Michael McNutt, told CNN that she has not decided whether she will sign the bill, noting she needs time to review the legislation. If Fallin does not sign or veto the bill in five days, it automatically becomes law, McNutt said.

According to the Washington Post, the bill passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a vote of 59-to-9 in April. On Thursday (19 May) the state's senate passed the measure with a vote of 33-to-12.

"Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected, and I believe it's a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception," State Senator Nathan Dahm, a Republican, told the Associated Press.

Texas abortion law
A similar restrictive law that exists in Texas makes it difficult for pregnant women to have abortions.Jana Birchum/Getty Images

Measure "clearly unconstitutional"

Dahm told reporters he hopes the bill could eventually lead to the overturning of the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which recognised a woman's right to an abortion.

The Center of Reproductive Rights has called on Fallin to veto the bill, which it says is in "contravention of long standing federal and state constitutional principles as well as basic human rights." In a letter to the governor, the group added: "This measure is harmful, discriminatory, clearly unconstitutional, and insulting to Oklahoma women and their families."

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the American University Washington College of Law, told CNN, "The bill is as direct an assault on Roe v Wade—and the Supreme Court's subsequent jurisprudence—as anything we've seen before. If this law is upheld, then (the Roe decision) is meaningless." Vladeck explained that the Supreme Court has divided a pregnancy into two periods to determine a pregnant woman's constitutional right to choose: prior to viability and from viability to birth.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association, which declined to take a position on the legality of abortion, said it would "oppose legislation that is designed to intimidate physicians or override their medical judgement."

As the Washington Post also notes, a legislator - who voted against the bill - voiced concerns that the measure could lead to doctors leaving the state, which already struggles with a doctor shortage. A co-sponsor of the bill rejected the concern.

If the bill is signed into law, it will go into effect on 1 November.