The Oklahoma Supreme Court today ruled that the state constitution protects the right to abortion in life-threatening situations, but declined to rule whether its constitution protects a broader right to abortion outside of those circumstances.
The ruling came in Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice v. Drummond, a case filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners challenging two state abortion bans. The lawsuit argued that the bans violated the Oklahoma Constitution, which protects inalienable rights and substantive due process.
The ruling leaves abortion care largely unavailable in the state.
In its ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized that “the Oklahoma Constitution creates an inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life.” The court also said that doctors should be able to use their own medical judgment to determine whether to provide an abortion when a patient’s life is at risk “due to the pregnancy itself or due to a medical condition that the woman is either currently suffering from or likely to suffer from during the pregnancy.”
The court’s ruling today:
- Struck down one of the state’s abortion bans, S.B. 612, as a violation of Oklahomans’ rights to access abortion care in life-threatening situations. The law, enacted in April 2022, prohibited all abortions except in narrowly defined medical emergencies and made abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.
- Upheld another abortion ban enacted in 1910, ruling that it protects abortion access in those dangerous situations. The law, Section 861, makes performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, unless necessary to preserve the pregnant person’s life.
“People’s lives have been endangered by Oklahoma’s cruel abortion bans, and now doctors will be able to help pregnant people whose lives they believe are at risk,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are disappointed that the Court declined to rule whether the state Constitution also protects the right to abortion outside of these circumstances. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s own precedent and the plain language of the Oklahoma Constitution guarantee the right to liberty and assure that a broad right to reproductive autonomy exists. Yet Oklahomans are still being denied the right to make decisions about their own bodies, families and futures.”
The plaintiffs in the case—Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, Dr. Alan Braid, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma—are represented by the Center, Dechert LLP, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Working to Preserve Abortion Access in States Post-Roe
The Center and its partners continue to litigate to preserve access to abortion care after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022 and anti-abortion lawmakers moved to enforce state abortion bans.
The bans—previously unenforceable under Roe—include “pre-Roe” bans that were passed before 1973 but never repealed, “trigger” laws designed to outlaw abortion automatically if the Supreme Court overturned Roe, and recent bans passed in anticipation of the Court’s decision in Dobbs.