Abortion providers sue to block Oklahoma GOP's 'insidious' sans

Abortion providers sue to block Oklahoma GOP's 'insidious' sans
Abortion rights activists in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2019, Lorie Shaull
A coalition of Oklahoma abortion providers and national reproductive justice groups filed a pair of lawsuits in state court on Thursday to block two draconian abortion bans passed this month by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

"To limit a person's freedom and autonomy is unconscionable and unconstitutional," Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. "Unless these abortion bans are stopped, Oklahomans will be robbed of the freedom to control their own bodies and futures."

"We've told Oklahoma politicians loud and clear: keep your bans off our bodies," said Johnson. "Today, we're taking the state to court to stop these bans from robbing Oklahomans of abortion access."

S.B. 1503, which the Center for Reproductive Rights called a "bounty-hunting scheme" modeled after S.B. 8, Texas' devastating law, would reward vigilantes with at least $10,000 each time they successfully sue a person who provides or helps someone access an abortion after six weeks—before many people know they are pregnant. It was passed Thursday with no debate or questions allowed and would become effective as soon as Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signs it, which he has promised to do.

Another forced-pregnancy bill, S.B. 612, was approved by right-wing lawmakers and signed into law by Stitt earlier this month. The legislation, scheduled to take effect this summer, criminalizes virtually all abortions at any stage of pregnancy, threatening healthcare workers who provide one with a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.

In a move reserved for constitutional crises and other pressing situations, the challenge to S.B. 1503 was filed directly in Oklahoma Supreme Court. Plaintiffs requested an emergency order to stop the law from going into effect while litigation moves forward.

The challenge to S.B. 612, submitted to trial court, was attached to an existing lawsuit challenging five other abortion restrictions enacted last year in Oklahoma, all of which are currently blocked. Petitioners asked to have S.B. 612 temporarily enjoined like these other laws as litigation proceeds.

"The Oklahoma Supreme Court has repeatedly found that the state Legislature's extreme attempts to restrict abortion are unconstitutional, and these bans are some of the most extreme yet," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "We are asking the state courts to uphold the State Constitution and apply Oklahoma precedent to block these insidious abortion bans before they take effect."

"Oklahoma is a critical state for abortion access right now, with many Texans fleeing to Oklahoma for abortion care," Northup added. "These bans would further decimate abortion access across the South."

Planned Parenthood released data in March showing that, in the first four months after S.B. 8 took effect, more than half of the patients at its Oklahoma health centers were from Texas, up from less than 10% in the previous year. Overall, during that period, there was a nearly 2,500% increase in Texas patients.

Tamya Cox-Touré, co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, stressed that Oklahoma's bans "will push abortion access out of reach for many communities who already face often insurmountable barriers to healthcare, including Black and brown communities, low-income communities, and people who live in rural areas."

Oklahoma is poised to become the second state this year, after Idaho, to follow Texas' example in cutting off access to reproductive healthcare at the earliest stages of pregnancy even while Roe v. Wade—which affirmed in 1973 that women in every U.S. state have the constitutional right to obtain an abortion—still stands.

The right-wing U.S. Supreme Court's anti-choice supermajority has refused to prevent Texas' S.B. 8 from taking effect. The high court is expected to rule on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban later this year. That ruling could result in the overturning of Roe, but Republican lawmakers are not waiting for a decision in the case before carrying out a nationwide assault on abortion rights.

"Reproductive healthcare is in crisis," Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet, which is not a plaintiff in the Oklahoma lawsuits, said Thursday. "In Texas, Mississippi, Idaho, Florida, and now Oklahoma, state lawmakers are criminalizing those who seek access to reproductive healthcare and anyone who provides it. We are imminently encroaching toward an era where Roe v. Wade is no longer federally enforceable. This should terrify everyone."

Dr. Alan Braid, a plaintiff from Tulsa Women's Reproductive Clinic, said that the GOP's wave of anti-choice laws is "designed to threaten and intimidate physicians into not providing constitutionally protected healthcare, and force pregnant people to travel hundreds of miles to receive care."

"The pain this has caused in Texas is unfathomable," he added, "and I will fight alongside these other providers and advocates to prevent this law from taking effect in Oklahoma."

The Center for Reproductive Rights said that "although federal challenges to Texas' similar ban have been unsuccessful in blocking the law, there is significant precedent in Oklahoma state court to support plaintiffs' arguments for relief preventing this ban from going into effect."

Meanwhile, The Nation's justice correspondent Elie Mystal said Thursday that Oklahoma is in violation of the U.S. Constitution and argued that President Joe Biden "should send abortion providers to the state clothed in federal power and provide constitutional services to those who need them."

The Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA) would protect healthcare professionals' right to provide abortions and patients' right to receive care.

All but one Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives supported the bill's passage in September, shortly after Texas' ban went into effect. However, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in February joined with the upper chamber's Republicans to block the measure.


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