The State of Reproductive Rights in Oklahoma? Better Go Ask a Judge

When trying to understand the latest in reproductive health on a state by state basis, there are various places a person can look: local pro-life and pro-choice organizations, news feeds, activists on either side.  But to follow the latest in women’s health care in the state of Oklahoma, you’re better off if you have a legal degree.

On December 18th an Oklahoma judge ruled to continue to block an abortion law that has been on hold for over two months
The law is believed to be unconstitutional, as it addresses multiple
separate subjects in one law, where as the Oklahoma state constitution
prohibits more than one topic at a time.

One of the most controversial aspects of the new law involves
prohibiting sex-selection abortions (or "gender-selection abortions," as they are referred to in this case).

Gender-selection abortions have
become a recent rallying point this year, with legislation being proposed in several states after a 2009 study cited the possibility of "prenatal gender selection" within Asian communities in the United States. 

Oklahoma has an Asian population of less than 1.7 percent according to the census data.  

a doctor be accused of performing an abortion for the purpose of gender-selection abortion, he
or she can be levied with fines ranging from $10,000 to $100,000.  

A more widely-reported topic in Oklahoma’s abortion laws is an invasive and
detailed questionnaire that must be filled and submitted by all
abortion practitioners within 30 days of completing a procedure. Non-compliance would result in serious fines for practitioners, $500
per each late, incomplete or missing questionnaire.

The questionnaire asks multiple questions about the relationship of
the potential mother and father, the financial and emotional well-being
of the mother, and for financial and educational background.  However,
it also asks for information that could easily be used to identify the
patient, such as, in one subsection, where rape and incest victims must
list the law enforcement agency the attack was reported to, and the
date of the report, should the abortion provider, equipment or
facilities have any ties to the state.

Overall, the purpose of many of the proposed rules seem clear.  Besides
making access to abortion care more onerous for patients, the chance to hang multiple
potential fines over a practitioner’s head will once more reduce the
number of people willing to perform the procedure, a key tactic of
anti-choice activists.

A judge has blocked implementation of the law
because of its very nature.

"It’s clear [the judge]
understands that this law is a violation of the state constitution,"
stated Jennifer Mondino, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, during a press conference after the ruling.
"He made a comment at the end…that he is a very strong proponent of
the state legislature, but a stronger proponent of the state

that’s not the only unconstitutional abortion law proposed in
Oklahoma.  Another law, meant to go into effect in November of
2008, mandated that all women seeking abortions must first view an
ultrasound and listen to their doctor give a full and detailed
description of the image.  Like the prior law on reporting, this law
too was restrained for violating the one subject rule.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, who also defended against the implementation of this law,
declared that besides violating the state constitution, the law
undercuts "patient autonomy" by forcing her to receive information she
may not want or need, as well as asking doctors to keep information
from her that would help her make informed decisions, such as the
discovery of birth defects within the fetus.  In August of 2009, the
law was barred permanently from being enforced. However, some parties predict that the legislature will revisit this law as well.

Oklahoma the greatest victory as of late has been to simply not let
anti-choice legislators push through more restrictions.  Will 2010
bring a chance to make actual progress in reproductive rights, or will
it just be about fighting the same battles again?  We will continue to
report on new developments.

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  • kathyc

    As a recovering Oklahoman, I am deeply concerned and embarrassed by the state of choice in Oklahoma. The really troubling part is this is not just a legislative body gone wild, this really does reflect the values and ideas of the voters. After 50 years in the state, I had to leave.

  • crowepps

    as well as asking doctors to keep information from her that would help her make informed decisions, such as the discovery of birth defects within the fetus.

    That was startling enough that I went to see what it meant.

    At the same time, the law prohibits a woman from suing her physician for intentionally withholding information about her pregnancy that might cause her to consider having an abortion. Thus, a pregnant woman would have no legal recourse if a physician intentionally did not tell her that her fetus suffered from a severe developmental anomaly.

    Now that just way, way oversteps medical ethical guidelines. A doctor who believes a woman shouldn’t abort an anencephalic fetus can withhold the information and let her complete the pregnancy before breaking the bad news? And this incredible paternalism and disregard of her right to make her own fully-informed medical decisions is rewarded by immunity from lawsuit? Golly, how special. It’s so nice to know the legislature wants to enshine in law the principal that OB/GYN equals Daddy.


    I was particularly alarmed by an additional provision which puts the doctor ‘who breaks any of these provisions’ at risk of lawsuit by not just the patient but also "her spouse, parent, sibling, guardian, former or current health care provider". If the patient is satisfied, why should the patient’s sister or brother get to file a lawsuit?  Or a doctor who is no longer treating her? That is just bizarre.