Abortion care in Oklahoma is in crisis.
Following the Supreme Court’s egregious refused to block the draconian Texas abortion ban — the most extreme anti-abortion law in the country — thousands of women from Texas have had to flee to Oklahoma in hopes of obtaining abortion care.
However, Oklahoma is facing its own anti-abortion legislative developments that could make comprehensive reproductive health care even more precarious. Oklahoma legislators have attempted to enact five extremist abortion restrictions set to go into effect on Nov. 1. State Sen. Julie Daniels, who sponsored four of the five abortion restrictions, revealed that her goal was religiously motivated, since she wanted to “save the life of the unborn child.” On Oct. 4, County District Judge Cindy H. Truong temporarily blocked two of the bills, one of which was nearly identical to the Texas abortion ban. And on Oct. 24, the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked the remaining laws that would have decimated abortion care in the state. This was thanks to the hard work of reproductive rights organizations, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the constitutionality of these abortion restrictions.
While abortion care is temporarily preserved in Oklahoma, clinics are overwhelmed with patients from Texas. Indeed, the surge of women driving an average 700 miles to the nearest clinic has inundated Oklahoma abortion care providers. Some clinics are booked three-four weeks in advance. Zack Gingrich-Gaylord with Trust Women, one of just three abortion clinics in Oklahoma, explained that this has put a strain on care “pushing them to extend hours, hire more staff, and for the first time ever, put a cap on the amount of patients they can accept each day.”
And in a possible harbinger, Oklahoma courts have convicted a 20-year-old Indigenous woman of manslaughter in the first degree and sentenced her to state prison for four years because she had a miscarriage at 17 weeks of gestation. The National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a legal advocacy, public education and organizing organization that works for human rights for pregnant people, got involved with Brittney Poolaw’s case when they were investigating 56 other cases in Oklahoma in which women were charged with crimes tied to their pregnancies.
This has echoes of El Salvador, a country with a total abortion ban that has imprisoned more than 140 women for miscarriages.
These are frightening times, particularly for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, rural and low-income women, and members of the LGBTQ community. We cannot depend on the states to enact legislation that will protect the constitutional right to an abortion from religious extremists.
It is time that Congress pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which will safeguard abortion rights by nullifying state abortion bans. It also will guarantee the right for patients to receive abortion care and for health care professionals to provide abortions. This act would make a tremendous impact on abortion care providers and patients alike. The Freedom From Religion Foundation submitted formal testimony in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act. Thanks to the work of many activist citizens, including FFRF members, the act passed the House.
However, it faces a lot of resistance in the Senate. Please call your senators to tell them to pass this important piece of abortion legislation. The recent events in Oklahoma underscore how urgently it is needed.