The Center continues to challenge the state’s senseless assault on women’s reproductive health.
When Laura, a college student in Oklahoma, found out she was pregnant, she knew immediately what she needed to do.
“No question,” she remembers. “I didn’t want to have a baby. I didn’t want to be pregnant at all. I wanted an abortion. Period.”
Despite her clarity and the fact that abortion is a constitutionally protected right that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed should be accessible without “undue burden,” Laura was stunned by the hoops she had to jump through to obtain the health care she needed.
First she called the university health services and was told they could not help her—or even give her information about her options. Then she tried some “family planning” numbers in the phone book, but they would talk to her only about adoption.
Eventually, Laura’s mom helped connect her to a provider in the state. Laura and her boyfriend drove two hours to the clinic for a consult, then home. Several days later, after the required waiting period had passed, they made the trip again.
“Eight hours driving time total so that we could make the right decision for us at the time,” says Laura. “A decision I have never regretted.”
In fact, Laura’s experience could have been far worse. Over the last five years, Oklahoma’ state legislature has focused obsessively on limiting women’s access to reproductive health care. The governor, Mary Fallin, has signed 18 reproductive health restrictions into law since she took office in 2011, ranging from Texas-style clinic shutdown laws to pre-viability bans to restrictions on access to emergency contraception and medication abortion.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged eight of those restrictions in court—all of them clear constitutional violations—and has successfully blocked all of the measures where the litigation has concluded. Of the open cases, only the state’s mandatory 72-hour delay is currently in effect. Litigation continues in this case.
In May, the state legislature passed an unprecedented bill that would ban abortion by criminalizing doctors who provide abortion services—even to women whose life or health in endangered. The measure would strip providers of their medical licenses and threaten them with up to three years in prison. It would also threaten a woman suspected of self-induction with felony charges.
Expressing some concerns about its vagueness, Gov. Fallin vetoed the blatantly unconstitutional bill shortly before the legislature adjourned last week. Should the legislature override her veto in a special session, the Center will likely challenge the law in court.
“Without the Center’s intervention over the last four years, Oklahoma’s reproductive health care landscape would be truly catastrophic,” says Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center. “It is shameful that this is where lawmakers are choosing to spend so much of their energy, especially since they are doing so with such obvious disrespect for the U.S. Constitution.”
Currently, only two clinics in Oklahoma offer abortion services—down from five providers in 2011. Laura’s struggle to access care puts her in the company of thousands of women in similarly precarious situations. In Laura’s case, she was fortunate that her mother was not only understanding and helpful, but agreed to pay for the procedure, an expense that Laura and her boyfriend—both college students—could hardly afford.
“The cost of gas and time away from work and studies alone put enough of a strain on our meager finances and delicately balanced existence,” says Laura. “We were fortunate because my mother was so supportive. How many people out there don’t have that kind of support? What do they do, have babies they don’t want and aren’t prepared to take care of?
Attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care have a disproportionate impact on poorer women, women of color, and women in rural areas for whom the additional restrictions can serve as outright barriers to care.
In Oklahoma, more than half of the state’s pregnancies are unplanned, nearly 18% of women lack the basic resources to meet a standard of living needed to maintain health, and the legislature has banned most insurance coverage for abortion services.
Instead of addressing these issues and the state’s worsening budget crisis—which is threatening public schools and other critical programs such as Medicaid and mental health services—this year Oklahoma lawmakers have spent millions of taxpayer dollars prioritizing measures that would impeach the president, ban transgender students from shared restrooms, and criminalize doctors for providing legal abortion services.