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Oklahoma Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Criminalize Performing Abortions


Late today, the governor of Oklahoma did something she's never done before. She vetoed an abortion bill. Republican governor Mary Fallin describes herself as the most pro-life governor in the nation. She's signed 18 anti-abortion laws. But this latest one even she agreed would've been struck down by the courts.

We're joined now by reporter Rachel Hubbard of member station KOSU in Oklahoma City. And Rachel, first just tell us about the bill and what made it specifically controversial.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: Well, Audie, let me just read part of the bill. And I'm quoting here. (Reading) No person shall perform an abortion upon a pregnant woman. A person that violates this section shall be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not less than one year in the state penitentiary.

And that bill goes on to say any physician that does perform an abortion won't be able to renew a medical license or ever get one again in the state of Oklahoma. And as you can imagine, some doctors in the state weren't too happy about this. Doug Cox is a physician who says criminalizing doctors is outrageous.


DOUG COX: As a physician, I've dealt with things that the Legislature never deals with - real-life conversations that take place behind closed doors. And I resent the Legislature trying to step in and interfere, put the government standing between me and my patients.

HUBBARD: Now, Audie, here's the thing about Doug Cox. Not only is he a doctor. He's also a Republican lawmaker who serves in the State House. He describes himself as pro-life and says he's never performed an abortion he doesn't plan to. But he was still against this bill.

CORNISH: So help us understand how this bill got passed by the Republican-led legislature in Oklahoma.

HUBBARD: Well, Oklahoma is a super conservative, very pro-God, very pro-gun state, and they really value state's rights. People here just don't like anybody to tell them what to do. One of the authors of the bill is State Representative David Brumbaugh. He says since the Legislature approved this bill yesterday, there's been a frenzy and frankly a misunderstanding. He says the bill is about licensing, and licensing of physicians is a state's right, he says.

DAVID BRUMBAUGH: We're trying to, you know, weather this storm by doing the right things because it's not a federal issue. It's a state issue. And the state has an interest in the public safety and health of its citizens, and that's what this bill's about.

HUBBARD: Now, Audie, the Center for Reproduction Rights was quick to weigh in on this bill when it passed yesterday. It's sued Oklahoma eight times over its abortion laws in the past few years and has threatened to do so again if the governor had signed the bill.

CORNISH: Now, why did governor Fallin decide to veto this abortion bill? As we said, this not something she'd been known to do.

HUBBARD: Right. The governor released as statement this afternoon after she vetoed the bill. She didn't disagree with the principle of making abortion illegal. In her carefully worded message, she said two things. One - the definition of a felony was so vague that it couldn't withstand a constitutional legal challenge. And second was that she does support a reexamination of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe versus Wade which legalized abortion, but she conceded that this legislation just couldn't accomplish that, saying only the appointment of a conservation pro-life justice to the U.S. Supreme Court could get that done.

CORNISH: So what happens next?

HUBBARD: Well, the Oklahoma Legislature can try to override the veto, but that's not likely to happen. It really didn't have a lot of support in the House of Representatives initially. Some 30 lawmakers abstained from the first vote. And the Oklahoma Legislature is winding down anyway. It ends a week from today. There's still no budget. They're likely headed to a special session. So we'll have to wait and see if this bill makes a return appearance.

CORNISH: That's Rachel Hubbard of member station KOSU. She joined us from Oklahoma City. Thanks so much.

HUBBARD: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Hubbard is a 20-year news veteran and serves as KOSU's executive director.