Above: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt holds up a pro-life bill he signed Wednesday (May 25). Photo from Twitter

(BP)—Southern Baptist leaders commended the enactment of Oklahoma’s latest ban on abortion.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law Wednesday, May 25, a prohibition on abortion throughout pregnancy. Unlike heartbeat or 15-week bans adopted by some states, the law does not establish a stage weeks into pregnancy at which time the preborn child is protected. Instead, it defines an “unborn child” as a “human fetus or embryo in any stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.”

The law—described by some observers as the most restrictive abortion ban in the country—includes, however, exceptions to protect the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest reported to law enforcement. Like a 2021 Texas law, the measure authorizes enforcement only by a private citizen bringing a civil lawsuit against someone who performed a prohibited abortion.

The new law took effect immediately as the country awaits a decision from a U.S. Supreme Court that appears prepared to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion throughout the country.

“Oklahoma thankfully has been a national leader in the efforts to save unborn lives and to end legalized abortion,” said Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists. “The policy passed here, along with the possibility that Roe may soon be overturned, is a momentous point in American history and for the struggle for the unborn.

“By God’s grace, we are seeing the beginning of the end of the tragic practice of abortion, even as Oklahoma Baptists continue to minister to those facing an unintended pregnancy, meeting needs in the name of Jesus,” Fisher told Baptist Press in written comments.

Hannah Daniel, a policy associate with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said Oklahoma’s new law “will save innocent lives, and that is something the state should always strive for. As the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the disastrous precedents set in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, every state should be considering how they can take similar steps to protect preborn lives.

“At the same time, churches in Oklahoma and across the country must be ready to stand in the gap and meet the needs of women in crisis and their children,” Daniel said in a written statement for BP.

The new law is “the biggest win yet for unborn children and their mothers,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. “By protecting unborn babies throughout pregnancy, as many as 3,800 lives a year may be saved.”

On Twitter, Stitt said he was proud to keep his promise to Oklahomans that he would sign “every piece of pro-life legislation” that arrived at his desk.

“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,” Stitt tweeted. “That is what I believe and that is what the majority of Oklahomans believe. If other states want to pass different laws, that is their right, but in Oklahoma we will always stand up for life.”

The new law—passed 35-10 by the Senate and 73-16 by the House of Representatives—is the third abortion ban Stitt has signed into law in barely six weeks.

On April 12, the governor signed a bill that criminalized the performance of an abortion or attempt to perform an abortion as a felony. If convicted, a person may receive a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and/or a fine of as much as $100,000. It banned abortion except to save the life of the mother.

Stitt endorsed May 3 a prohibition on abortion when a preborn child’s heartbeat can be detected, which is typically at five or six weeks’ gestation. As with the state’s latest ban, the measure authorizes enforcement only by civil action.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the county’s No. 1 abortion provider, will “challenge every ban enacted in Oklahoma,” its president, Alexis McGill Johnson, said in a written statement.

The new Oklahoma ban is the latest state action on the issue in efforts by both pro-life and abortion-rights advocates before the Supreme Court issues what could be a monumental decision. A draft opinion published May 2 indicates the justices may be poised to reverse the Roe and 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings.

Four members of the Supreme Court have joined Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the draft opinion, in support of overturning the Roe ruling, according to Politico, the news organization that published the leaked document. Those justices are Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

The case that could result in the reversal of Roe and Casey is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which involves a Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation. If a majority remains in place for the draft opinion, the court would overturn Roe as well as Casey, which affirmed the 1973 ruling but permitted some state regulation of abortion. In briefs for the high court, Mississippi and many pro-life organizations, including the ERLC, asked the justices to reverse both the Roe and Casey opinions.

A reversal of Roe and Casey by the Supreme Court would return abortion policy to the states. Some state governments have intensified attempts to either restrict or defend abortion rights in this year’s legislative sessions. If Roe and Casey are overturned, 26 states are “certain or likely” to prohibit abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization affiliated with the abortion-rights movement.

Eleven states have enacted 42 abortion restrictions in 2022, while 11 other states have adopted 19 laws protecting abortion, Guttmacher reported Thursday.

Among the pro-life measures enacted this year by states other than Oklahoma:

  • Arizona, Florida and Kentucky prohibited abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation.
  • Idaho banned abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected with a civil enforcement provision like those of Texas and Oklahoma.
  • Wyoming adopted a prohibition on abortion that would be triggered if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.
  • Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee passed various restrictions on medication or chemical abortions, according to Guttmacher.

“We are seeing the beginning of a domino effect that will spread across the entire South and Midwest if Roe falls,” said Nancy Northup, president of the abortion-rights Center for Reproductive Rights, after Oklahoma’s latest law was enacted.

The abortion-rights provisions enacted in 2022 include, according to Guttmacher:

  • Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey and Washington established or strengthened protections for abortion rights.
  • Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Washington expanded authorization for people performing abortions to “advanced practice clinicians.”
  • California, Maryland, New York and Oregon mandated health insurance plans cover abortions or created a public fund to help pay for the procedure.