In a surprising move, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) vetoed a controversial bill that would have made performing an abortion a felony in the state.

The governor, known for her stanch anti-abortion beliefs, struck down the legislation on May 20, saying it would not withstand a court 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,’ ” Gov. Fallin said in a statement . “The absence of any definition, analysis, or medical standard renders this exception vague, indefinite, and vulnerable to subjective interpretation and application.”

The news was welcomed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which had sent Gov. Fallin a letter urging the veto.

“We were excited to see the veto,” said Dr. Dana Stone, legislative liaison for ACOG’s Oklahoma section. “I was not expecting that at all. We considered this a very dangerous law, and the most extreme law brought forward in Oklahoma.”

At this article’s deadline, the anti-abortion groups Oklahomans For Life, National Right to Life, and Americans United for Life had not responded to requests for comments. Oklahoma Sen. Nathan Dahm (R), who authored Senate Bill 1552 , also did not respond to requests. On May 20, Sen. Dahm told the Associated Press he was undecided on whether he would attempt to override the governor’s veto.

SB 1552 would have classified the act of performing an abortion as “unprofessional conduct” by a physician, and prevented abortion providers from maintaining, obtaining, or renewing a medical license. Physicians convicted under the measure could have faced 1-3 years in prison. The bill contained a provision that excluded abortions necessary to save a woman’s life.

If Oklahoma legislators successfully override the veto, the measure would likely be headed to the courts, Dr. Stone said. Abortion rights groups have said the bill is a direct violation of Roe v. Wade and that they would sue over the legislation if it stands.

ACOG is also keeping a close eye on a South Carolina bill that would ban abortions after 19 weeks, even if women are victims of rape or incest. The South Carolina legislature passed SB 3114 on May 17, and the bill is currently before South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R). She has indicated that she will sign the bill.

Similar abortion laws are in effect in 12 states, according to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, but most measures are facing court challenges. In a letter to Gov. Haley, ACOG urged her to veto SB 3114, saying the bill will tie the hands of doctors seeking to help patients.

“It is bad medicine, based on the thoroughly debunked fallacy that a 20-week fetus – which is not viable – can feel pain,” doctors with ACOG’s South Carolina section wrote to the governor. “It would undoubtedly place us in the unconscionable position of having to watch our patients and their loved ones undergo additional emotional trauma, illness, and suffering during what is already a difficult time.”

South Carolina Rep. Wendy Nanney (R), the bill’s sponsor, said SB 3114 protects life, and that she hopes the bill will effectively end all abortions in South Carolina.

“Life begins at conception,” she said on her website . “By giving legal status to life in the womb, this bill would be a huge step in the right direction towards ending abortion in our state.”

agallegos@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @legal_med

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