New Abortion Law Puts Oklahoma Physicians at Risk for “Wrongful Death” Lawsuits

Supermajority Education Fund

May 29, 2020

On May 21, Oklahoma legislators signed into law the Unborn Person Wrongful Death Act, which expands liability for doctors if they “coerce” patients into getting an abortion. This law would allow the pregnant person, close relatives of the pregnant person, or third parties to file a wrongful death lawsuit against a doctor who performed an abortion if the recipient of the procedure is given false information if the abortion causes “physical or psychological harm.” 

State Sen. David Bullard, who authored the bill, said its purpose is to protect women from the abortion “industry,” telling Oklahoma News 4. “We’re referring to it as an industry for a reason. They’re making a lot of money off of this.”

This bill joins a wave of anti-abortion legislation that has been introduced across the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic. Oklahoma, Ohio, and Texas are among the states that banned abortion during the pandemic. While Oklahoma’s ban is currently blocked by court order, the state still has some of the most restrictive laws in the U.S. when it comes to the procedure. 

In February, the Oklahoma Senate passed Senate Bill 1859, a bill that bans abortion as soon as brainwaves or a fetal heartbeat are detected. There is also a 72-hour waiting period for anyone who needs an abortion, which places great strains on those who do not have the resources to travel or receive accommodations over a three-day period.

Tamya Cox-Toure, regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told Supermajority News that before the Unborn Person Wrongful Death Act, the state allowed for a civil action lawsuit to be brought against a doctor who performs a doctor in cases of negligence.

“The intent of this law is to intimidate Oklahoma medical professionals by expanding [penalties that already exist] to coercion,” and, she added, for legislators, “to intimidate and stigmatize providers who perform abortions.” 

This bill suggests that its authors “have zero knowledge of the process one must comply with to even access an abortion,” Cox-Toure continued. “There is state-mandated paperwork that must be filled out that explicitly asks about coercion…Doctors are not coercing patients; they are providing nonjudgmental, unbiased health care.”

The bill also misrepresents medical providers’ intentions. “If at any time medical staff thought for even one moment that the patient was not making the decision that was best for them, they would immediately pause or stop the appointment altogether,” Cox-Toure said. “It is clear that the difference between these anti-abortion legislators and abortion providers in Oklahoma is that providers believe in the agency of the patient and respect that patients can make decisions that are best for their lives and their situations. The politicians behind this bill obviously do not.”