The Oklahoma state Supreme Court blocked a series of abortion-related statutes on Tuesday to declare once again that individuals seeking an abortion in the state, on the basis of it being a life-saving procedure, are still allowed to do so under the terms of the state constitution.
The ruling blocks three state statutes that were challenged based on that constitutional protection, which the state Supreme Court previously established earlier this year. The latest ruling, however, does not block the state’s highly restrictive six-week abortion ban.
Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, a grassroots organization supportive of abortion rights in the state, sued the state alleging that the statutes placed undue burdens on Oklahomans seeking abortions, particularly medication-induced ones.
The three laws, passed in 2021, would have placed strict requirements on who could perform an abortion, limiting it to only board certified doctors in obstetrics and gynecology; placing additional burdens on patients by requiring physicians administering abortion medication to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals; and requiring an ultrasound 72 hours before administering the abortion medications.
“The chilling effect of these new laws is such that no physician would likely risk providing constitutionally protected care for fear of violating these statutes,” the majority opinion of the court read, adding that the “three Acts would place unnecessary burdens on the lawful termination of a pregnancy” that the court has previously established.
The laws will remain blocked pending the outcome of lower court decisions relating to their legalities.
Oklahoma state law still bars any abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy — a timeframe during which a person may not even be aware that they are pregnant. The six-week ban was signed into law in April 2022 by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, months ahead of the federal Supreme Court’s ruling that upended abortion rights that were previously recognized in the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
Abortion rights groups praised Tuesday’s ruling from the state’s Supreme Court while also recognizing that abortion access is still severely limited in the state due to the six-week ban.
“We are grateful that the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized how these laws are medically baseless and threaten grave harm, while ensuring that they remain blocked as this case proceeds,” said Rabia Muqaddam, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. While adding that the ruling was “welcome news,” Muqaddam also stated that “Oklahomans still do not have access to the abortion care they need,” in spite of the latest decision by the state’s highest court.
Several states across the country have pushed for abortion rights to be recognized more broadly within their state constitutions — residents in Ohio, for example, successfully passed an abortion amendment that recognizes the right to obtain an abortion up to the point of viability, typically viewed as around 22-24 weeks of pregnancy.
A similar effort was attempted last year in Oklahoma, but organizers of the proposed ballot initiative abruptly halted their plans in December 2022, saying they wanted to reorganize the petition drive to better their chances for an eventual win. A renewed effort for that ballot initiative hasn’t yet materialized, possibly due to the high costs of funding such an effort.
“It’s not just: Can you pull together a coalition, educate voters, and get them out? But: Can you also raise enough to combat what has been years of misinformation, miseducation, and really shaming and stigmatizing information about abortion?” Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said to Governing last week.
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