This story was originally published at Prism.
Last week, Oklahoma lawmakers passed the country’s most restrictive abortion ban to date. The new law, part of House Bill 4327, bans abortion from the moment of fertilization, with few exceptions, and is enforceable by lawsuits from private citizens. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is expected to sign the bill by the end of the week, and it will immediately go into effect. The bill is the latest in a series of attacks on abortion rights by the state legislature. Days after the Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked on May 2, Stitt signed a bill into law modeled after Texas’ Senate Bill 8, banning abortion after six weeks.
Once the new bill is passed, it will become the strictest abortion ban to date, making Oklahoma the first state to successfully outlaw abortion and eliminate access while Roe v. Wade still stands. Advocates say the bill will further restrict access to abortion for people in Oklahoma and for people in surrounding states like Texas, who had once traveled to the nearby state for abortion care. The result is a growing abortion desert.
“The biggest concern is that people in Oklahoma will no longer have what little local access to abortion care that they had a few weeks ago,” said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, the communications manager for Trust Women, an abortion clinic in Oklahoma. “Access in this part of the country is not great to begin with so there’s already a paucity of access, now with Oklahoma essentially going dark, that just leaves a lot of people in really difficult situations.”
According to 2017 data from Guttmacher, some 96% of Oklahoma counties had no clinics that provided abortions, and 53% of Oklahoma women lived in those counties. In 2017 there were only four abortion clinics in the state: two in Oklahoma City, and two in Tulsa. The same year, there were 4,780 abortions in Oklahoma. Oklahoma had recently experienced an increase in abortion patients after Texas’ SB 8 was passed in September 2021.
Gingrich-Gaylord said after SB 8 passed, Trust Women was booked three to four weeks in advance. Planned Parenthood providers in the state reported a 2,500% increase in patients from Texas in the first three months SB 8 was in effect. Once Stitt signs Oklahoma’s bill, patients will not be able to access care in the state.
Before SB 8, Trust Women provided STI testing, gender-affirming care, prenatal care, and reproductive health exams, but due to the heightened demand caused by SB 8, they switched to exclusively providing abortion care. Once the governor signs the bill, Gingrich-Gaylord said Trust Women clinics in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, will be pivoting their care to provide their patients with practical support. . They remain open and accessible to people who need help finding resources and providers wherever abortions remain legal.
“We call upon all people who believe in personal autonomy, the right to choose abortions, and fundamental human rights to stand together in this unprecedented moment and support providers, clinics, and their communities,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “I think [legislators] are reading the signals that they’re getting from the court. It is just gratuitous. It’s just really punching down on the people of Oklahoma.”
The bill’s passing while Roe still stands is unprecedented, and many advocates say it’s a result of a hostile federal court system that allowed SB 8 and Oklahoma’s six-week ban to continue despite Planned Parenthood’s legal attempt to block the legislation. Advocates say the high courts’ refusal to intervene has allowed these bans to go unchecked.
“The Supreme Court has had a few opportunities to intervene in the Texas case and failed to do so,” said Emily Wales, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “It makes it really hard for us to challenge Oklahoma’s total ban.”
Wales said Planned Parenthood clinics will also stay open since they also provide contraception, STI testing and treatment, and cancer screenings. Their clinics were able to see up close what this crisis looked like and how desperate patients from Texas were.
“Now rather than being the place of refuge for people, we’re having to have those same conversations with our families and friends and neighbors and saying, ‘you cannot get this care at home anymore,” Wales said.
According to Gingrich-Gaylord, it is more imperative than ever to make a commitment to help communities access abortion care by donating to abortion funds, providing transportation and lodging for people traveling out of state to access abortions. Now that abortion will likely be outlawed in the state, Gingrich-Gaylord is hoping to take steps to re-legalize it. But the pathway is difficult.
“There’s a lot of work on a lot of different levels and a lot of it is the same work that’s been going on in this region for years,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “We need more clinics and more accessible and affordable health care for everybody. We need better social programs for people who are slipping through those cracks. So all of these things are ongoing. The situation is a lot more dire for people now, but the work is still largely the same.”
Advocates say the bill has not gone into effect yet and that abortion remains legal until the governor signs the bill. Once that happens, they advise pregnant people seeking abortion care to reach out to their local clinics or abortion funds, such as the Roe Fund, for more information on traveling out of state to Colorado, New Mexico, or Kansas for financial support.
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