OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill that would impose strict new state regulations and requirements on abortion providers in Oklahoma has easily passed the state House.
Senate Bill 1848 would require the Oklahoma Board of Health to establish the rules, including standards regarding equipment and supplies that might be needed in a medical emergency and requiring an abortion facility to have a physician who has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when an abortion is performed.
The measure has already passed the Senate. House members voted 75-15 for it after amending the bill to also ban stem cell research in the state. The bill now returns to the Senate for consideration of the amendment.
One of two physicians who serve in the chamber said Thursday that the Board of Health, which has nonphysician members, is not an appropriate agency to set medical standards.
"The state Board of Health has no business determining medical procedures. The medical profession sets those standards," said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room physician. "A medical expert could be a physical therapist. That's a dangerous precedent."
Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said the bill could have a "devastating effect on the entire practice of medicine," not just abortion access.
"Logic and reason really don't have that much of a place around here," Williams said.
The bill's author, Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, said it will require abortion clinics to be equipped and staffed to deal with a medical emergency if an abortion occurs.
"I don't have a problem holding them to a higher standard," Grau said.
He said the bill was motivated by incidents like those that occurred at a Philadelphia abortion clinic where authorities say newborns were killed after they were born alive and viable during illegal late-term abortions.
The bill also requires the board to adopt medical screening and evaluation standards for abortion patients and abortion procedure and post-procedure standards.
The stem cell research amendment prohibits research on human embryos in the state. Violators would be subject to at least one year in prison and a fine of at least $100,000.
Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, said the bill's ban on stem cell research will protect human embryos from destruction during laboratory research. Hamilton said she believes life begins at conception.
"That's a human being," Hamilton said. "If standing for human life is wrong, then I don't want to be right."
Cox said the stem call amendment is unnecessary because the practice, which he said does not occur in the state, is already regulated.
After the bill's passage, Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said the measure does nothing to protect women or make the practice of medicine any safer.
"Abortion clinics in Oklahoma are already well regulated, and abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure," Skeeters said in a statement. "This is an attempt to close Oklahoma clinics which provide abortion care by requiring clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges."
The bill is one of several anti-abortion measures filed in the 2014 Oklahoma Legislature, including a similar bill on abortion provider restrictions that passed the House in February.
Opponents have said the language in such legislation is identical to bills that face constitutional challenges in other states.