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New law bans all abortion in Oklahoma, except in cases of emergency, rape or incest

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday signed into law the nation's strictest abortion ban, making the state the first in the U.S. to effectively end availability of the procedure.

Governor signed law Wednesday prohibiting abortion from moment of fertilization

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks after signing into law a bill making it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, on April 12, in Oklahoma City. On Wednesday, Stitt signed into law the nation's strictest abortion ban, making the state the first in the U.S. to effectively end availability of the procedure. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on Wednesday signed into law the strictest abortion ban in the United States, one that prohibits abortions from fertilization and allows private citizens to sue those who help women terminate their pregnancies.

"I promised Oklahomans that as governor I would sign every piece of pro-life legislation that came across my desk and I am proud to keep that promise today," the first-term Republican said in a statement.

"From the moment life begins at conception is when we have a responsibility as human beings to do everything we can to protect that baby's life and the life of the mother. That is what I believe and that is what the majority of Oklahomans believe."

The only exceptions in the Oklahoma law are to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.

Law does not apply to contraception, morning-after pills

The bill specifically authorizes doctors to remove a "dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion," or miscarriage, or to remove an ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening emergency that occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube and early in pregnancy.

The law also does not apply to the use of morning-after pills such as Plan B or any type of contraception.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a global advocacy group based in New York, has said it will challenge the ban in state court.

Oklahoma is among the country's Republican-led states rushing to pass anti-abortion laws this year, anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established the constitutional right to abortion.

A draft opinion leaked on May 2 showed the court's conservative majority intends to overhaul federal abortion rights and send the issue of legalization back to individual states.

Dani Thayer, left, and Marina Lanae, right, both of Tulsa, Okla., hold pro-choice signs at the state Capitol. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

Two of Oklahoma's four abortion clinics already stopped providing abortions after the governor signed a six-week ban earlier this month.

2 of the state's 4 abortion clinics have closed

With the state's two remaining abortion clinics expected to stop offering services, it is unclear what will happen to women who qualify under one of the exceptions. The law's author, State Rep. Wendi Stearman, says doctors will be empowered to decide which women qualify and that those abortions will be performed in hospitals. But providers and abortion-rights activists warn that trying to prove qualification could prove difficult and even dangerous in some circumstances.

In May, Oklahoma enacted another bill that banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, as opposed to fertilization. Like the latest measure, it relies on civil lawsuits to be enforced.

The enforcement provision in both bills was modelled after Texas legislation, which took effect in September and stopped clinics from performing nearly all abortions in that state.

"The impact will be disastrous for Oklahomans," said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the abortion-rights supporting Guttmacher Institute. "It will also have severe ripple effects, especially for Texas patients who had been travelling to Oklahoma in large numbers after the Texas six-week abortion ban went into effect in September."

The restrictions in Oklahoma have now expanded a region of the country where there is little to no legal abortion access, forcing patients to travel to states such as Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado to end their pregnancies.

With files from The Associated Press

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