Oklahoma Republican Introduces Bill to Ban the Morning-After Pill

Kevin West (R) said the far-right law firm Alliance Defending Freedom helped draft the legislation that targets emergency contraception, which is literal birth control.

Oklahoma Republican Introduces Bill to Ban the Morning-After Pill
Rep. Kevin West (R) Photo: OKHouse.gov

A Republican state representative in Oklahoma recently introduced a bill that would define life as beginning when a sperm fertilizes an egg and would ban the morning-after pill—it could also prevent healthcare providers from prescribing IUDs for emergency contraception. Despite criticism from his colleagues, the bill advanced out of a committee this week by a vote of 5-1. The state already bans abortion except when necessary to save the life of the pregnant person.

Rep. Kevin West (R) said in a hearing Wednesday that he worked with Alliance Defending Freedom—the right-wing Christian law firm that argued Dobbs and has two active abortion cases at the Supreme Court—to author House Bill 3216. The introduction says the bill is, in part, about “prohibiting emergency contraception” and the text says that contraception could be prohibited if it’s prescribed or used “to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.” It’s not only incorrect that blocking implantation is tantamount to abortion, but that’s not even how emergency contraception works.

West claimed his intent is to revert OTC emergency contraception pills back to prescription-only, but the plain text of the bill clearly contradicts this. West said he would revise the bill to address bipartisan criticism before the full house hears it sometime next month, but it’s unclear exactly what language he’d change. Still, the fact remains that Republicans, and ADF specifically, are coming for birth control—though it’s pretty wild to see them going for it in an election year. 

It’s worth noting that the medical and legal definition of pregnancy is when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus. Emergency contraception—which includes brands like Plan B, AfterPill, and My Way—prevents pregnancy and does not affect an egg that has already been implanted. (Some EC pill formulations have been available over the counter since 2006, though one brand, Ella, remains Rx-only.) Medical experts have tons of evidence that EC pills work by stopping or delaying the ovary’s release of an egg, also known as ovulation. The copper IUD can also be used for EC when inserted within five days after having sex, and it works by making it harder for sperm to fertilize an egg—though more and more research shows that two hormonal IUDs, Mirena and Liletta, work the same way.

But anti-abortion activists and lawmakers argue that EC prevents fertilized eggs from implanting, which they claim is an abortion. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court gave that idea credence in the 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling, in which Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” (The four methods were “two forms of emergency contraception commonly called ‘morning after’ pills and two types of intrauterine devices.”) Fun(??) fact: ADF represented one of the other plaintiffs in that case, Conestoga Wood Specialties.

Now, Hobby Lobby was about whether companies that offer health insurance have to cover all forms of contraception under the Affordable Care Act, and SCOTUS ruled that religiously affiliated for-profit companies don’t, because freedom. It wasn’t about letting anyone ban types of birth control, but it’s not great that those words from Alito are now legal precedent, especially after Justice Clarence Thomas called for the court to overturn the right to use birth control.

Back to Oklahoma: Thankfully, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers raised concerns about HB 3216 in a House Public Health Committee, saying it appeared to be a ban on emergency contraception. Rep. Trish Ranson (D) said Wednesday, “If the bill doesn’t get changed with the current wording then IUDs and Plan B could be inaccessible to women.” (Ranson is the only Democratic member of the committee and the sole vote against advancing the bill.) West responded, “I didn’t personally read it like that… before I got into committee, but, you know, I respect the committee’s opinion on that.” Committee chair Cynthia Roe (R), a nurse practitioner, also brought up the potential impact of IUDs and said, “If we’re looking at preserving the life of the unborn, I think one of the ways to do that is access to birth control.”

Lawmakers also objected to the fact that HB 3216 would require doctors to report each abortion done to save a person’s life; that information would be used to create a de-identified database with the State Department of Health. West signaled a willingness to amend that portion also.

And this horror show wasn’t even the only abortion-related bill to advance this week. Another, HB 3013, would make it a felony to deliver or intend to deliver abortion-inducing medications to Oklahoma residents who planned to use the drugs to have an abortion. People convicted could be subject to up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $100,000. The House Criminal Judiciary Committee passed that bill by a vote of 5-1.

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