Oklahoma Legislature Considering Bill to Deem Abortion Homicide, No Exceptions
Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!
With 2019 in full swing, numerous bills signed into law took effect at the beginning of the month, from legislation all the way in Ireland legalizing and funding abortion care, to a bill in Oklahoma that would consider abortion to be homicide, to a restrictive law in Arizona that will now require abortion providers to ask women why they are seeking abortion care.
Across the country, reproductive rights face an uphill battle in the coming year, with a judicial system—including the Supreme Court—increasingly stacked with anti-choice judges, and cases that could severely endanger or end abortion rights altogether just outside the Supreme Court’s doorstep. Some cases challenge a range of restrictive laws on abortion rights from across the country, including bans on abortion at certain stages of the pregnancy, who is authorized to offer abortion care, medication abortion access, and more.
The first week of 2019 alone is already offering a glimpse into the turmoil ahead.
New Arizona law rooted in shaming people who seek abortions
Early in 2018, the Arizona state legislature passed a bill to require doctors to ask patients why they’re seeking abortion care, and report their answers to the state. The bill officially became the law as of January 1, and despite how proponents of the law claim it will help shine a light on “why abortion exists,” pro-choice advocates point out how the law is rooted in stigma and shame.
Like a range of other laws meant to dissuade or discourage women seeking abortion care, including mandated waiting periods, ultrasounds, state-directed counseling, and more, the Arizona law is meant to put patients seeking abortion care on the defensive—as if abortion is a shameful act that must inherently be defended—and differentiate abortion from other health care services that are just as safe and legal. It also marks a deep invasion of women’s privacy in what is often, for many patients, a complicated and personal decision.
As ThinkProgress points out, laws that are meant to shame and dissuade women from having abortion fail to prevent women from having abortions and simply reinforce existing, dangerous stigma.
Oklahoma bill would recognize abortion as homicide
On top of bills that would increase the minimum wage and affect gun owners, the Oklahoma state legislature is poised to consider a bill that would recognize abortion as homicide. Bills like this routinely float around anti-choice state legislatures with varying degrees of success, and despite how extreme they may sound, the truth is that criminalizing abortion and punishing women and abortion providers are mainstream values within an anti-choice movement that happily recognizes the supposed rights of fetuses while ignoring the jarring maternal death rates anti-choice laws directly result in.
Oklahoma’s SB 13 would notably allow for no exceptions, including common exceptions to anti-abortion laws for survivors of rape or pregnant women facing health complications. Those in violation would be subjected to the same laws governing homicide and manslaughter. Despite the obvious danger and unconstitutionality of the bill, in a state legislature like Oklahoma’s, with a long history of introducing and passing similar bills, there’s no telling how far SB 13 could get in the coming legislative session.
Montana lawmakers consider range of anti-choice laws
Oklahoma is hardly the only state legislature with a slew of anti-choice bills on the horizon this year. Despite the firm pro-choice record of Montana’s Democratic governor, the state legislature is prepared to consider bills that would arbitrarily ban abortion at about 23 weeks—when fetuses can purportedly feel pain according to widely discredited pseudoscience. Another bill could ask Montana voters to vote in a referendum on whether abortion is a constitutional right, an increasingly popular anti-choice approach in light of the Supreme Court’s dangerously anti-choice composition.
In the previous legislative session, the Oklahoma state legislature has passed or considered laws including a dangerous 20-week ban, only to be vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock, who argued that lawmakers “had no business substituting their personal beliefs for the sound medical judgment of our health care professionals or the deeply personal medical decisions of their constituents.”
Yet, despite Gov. Bullock’s pro-choice record, if the legislature can come up with the votes to override his vetoes, either of these bills could still become the law.
How a Planned Parenthood lawsuit could vastly shape abortion access
As of last month, Planned Parenthood and Legal Voice have filed a lawsuit against a dated Idaho law that limits prospective abortion providers to advanced practice clinicians. Idaho is one of 42 states with this requirement, which has made abortion increasingly inaccessible in states that include plenty of medical professionals who are more than able to offer safe, effective abortion care, but are restricted from doing so.
In Idaho specifically, 95 percent of counties in the state lack abortion providers, and these counties include 68 percent of the state’s female population. As a result, many women are forced to travel great distances to access abortion care, which overturning this law could help to address. According to plaintiffs in the lawsuit, expanding the scope of who is qualified to offer abortion care could allow for clinics to be open for more days, and allow for abortion to be all around more accessible.
“A lot of states passed these physicians-only statutes in the wake of Roe v. Wade, in large part because there was a concern about unskilled, untrained, unlicensed providers providing abortion care,” Kim Clark, a senior attorney with Legal Voice, told the Idaho Statesman, “but the delivery of medical care has changed drastically since these laws were passed.”
Restrictions on abortion access take form in a variety of ways, from TRAP laws that shut down clinics with expensive, medically unnecessary legal requirements to bans on abortion at different stages, but obscure laws limiting who is allowed to offer abortion care, supposedly to help keep women safe, are just one more mechanism to restrict abortion access, and of course, burden or endanger women as a result.
Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!
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