Okla. governor vetoes bill to make performing abortions a felony

Okla. governor vetoes bill to make performing abortions a felony
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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday vetoed a bill that would ban virtually all abortions in her state, in a surprising move.

The strongly anti-abortion governor, who has been floated as a possible running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens MORE, announced Friday afternoon that she would reject the bill because it was “vague and would not withstand a criminal constitutional legal challenge.”

“The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered ‘necessary to preserve the life of the mother,’ ” Fallin said in a statement, in which she called herself "the most pro-life governor in the nation." 

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The bill would have made it a felony for doctors to perform abortions, which opponents say is essentially a ban on the procedure.

Fallin had remained mum about the bill since Thursday, when it was approved by a party-line vote in the Oklahoma Senate. She had until next Wednesday to sign or veto the bill.

Long-time observers of Fallin’s political career had said they expected her to approve the bill in an effort to cement her place among the GOP’s Christian right and position herself to land on Trump’s ticket.

Fallin’s political record on abortion is strong; she has never vetoed an anti-abortion bill as governor and stuck to her position during her time in Congress as well.   

But Fallin also had to take into account potentially hefty financial costs. Any legal challenge would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars — if not $1 million — in expenses for the Oklahoma government, experts say. Oklahoma’s budget deficit recently climbed to $1.3 billion.

The legislation has been called the most extreme anti-abortion bill in recent memory. It would make it illegal for doctors to perform any abortion unless the woman’s life is at risk, even in the cases of rape or incest.
 
Within 24 hours of its passage, Fallin’s office was hit by a wall of protest from medical groups – like the Oklahoma State Medical Board and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – as well as abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
 
Several groups were already eying legal challenges in case Fallin did sign the bill. 
 
“There’s no chance a bill like this will stand up in court,” Genevieve Scott, an attorney for the legal group Center of Reproductive Rights, said earlier Friday. “It’s much more extreme and outrageous than anything else we’ve seen.”
 
The author of the Oklahoma bill, State Sen. Nathan Dahm, told reporters he knew the bill would be challenged in court, but he hoped it could lead to the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade. 
 
Fallin was under pressure to sign the bill from the increasingly powerful evangelical Christian wing of the GOP, both in Oklahoma and nationally.
 
The governor’s connection to the Christian right wing is part of what make her so appealing to Trump, said Michael Givel, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.
 
“Trump has bit of Evangelical problem at the moment. Somebody like her would really soothe the nerves of the Christian right,” he said. 
 
Fallin was first publicly floated as a potential vice president in April, by former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Trump later tweeted at Bauer, thanking him for the “great advice.”
 
She initially dismissed the rumors as “premature,” but endorsed Trump soon after.
 
Fallin had been in a unique place with the bill: Experts say it is nearly unprecedented for a total ban on abortion to reach a governor’s desk.
 
State legislatures have only approved total bans on abortion three other times since the Roe v. Wade court ruling in 1973, according to research by the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute. Only two of those bills went into effect — Louisiana and Utah, both in 1991. Both laws were immediately challenged, and ultimately struck down in federal court. 
 
“It’s the most extreme ban that we’ve seen in a long time,” Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues advocate with the Guttmacher Institute, said earlier Friday.
 
Like many states led by GOP governors, the Oklahoma legislature has been approving restriction after restriction on abortions.
 
The GOP took control of all statewide offices in Oklahoma six years ago, and since then, Nash said the party has “completely reshaped abortion [laws] in the state.”
 
“In some ways, you wonder if they didn't have anything left but to a ban abortion. It was kind of the next step for them to take,” she said.
 
- Updated at 5:11 p.m.