Okla. Abortion Restrictions Questioned by Some State Leaders

November 1, 2013 — Oklahoma conservatives in recent years have enacted some of the nation's harshest abortion restrictions, but some state leaders are questioning whether they have gone too far in limiting women's options, MSNBC reports.

MSNBC highlights a case of an Oklahoma woman, Jessica Davis, who sought an abortion after learning that her fetus had a severe brain malformation. The condition meant that the fetus most likely would not survive birth but that if it did, the child would die within a year. Because Oklahoma's strict antiabortion laws have limited where and when abortions can be performed in the state, the Davis family had to travel to Texas, paying more than $3,500 to cover the procedure and travel expenses. Oklahoma law also barred Davis from using her Medicaid coverage to pay for the procedure, which cost $2,800 and stretched over three days because it was performed later in pregnancy.

Oklahoma Laws

Oklahoma bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for severe fetal anomalies. Since Republicans gained control of the state House, Senate and governorship in 2010, the Legislature has passed at least 16 laws restricting abortion access, with very little opposition. Most nearby states also heavily restrict the procedure. Challenges to some of Oklahoma's laws could reach the Supreme Court. "We are the guinea pigs," said American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, a former state lawmaker.

Oklahomans for Life Chair Tony Lauinger has been a primary voice in lobbying for such restrictions. When asked about situations like those of Jessica Davis, he said, "Women in that situation certainly would have been free to go get an abortion somewhere else. The thought that the pro-life taxpayers of Oklahoma ought to be required to be complicit in the killing of a child with a disability is abhorrent."

Pushback Within State

However, not all state leaders agree with the restrictions. State Rep. Doug Cox (R), an emergency department physician, has spoken out against the laws. He said, "Like it or not, abortion has always been available to people whether it's legal or not. As a physician, I don't want to go back to ... somebody doing an abortion who doesn't know how to do it."

State Rep. Paul Wesselhof (R), a conservative minister who has voted for abortion restrictions, also has urged lawmakers to focus their attention elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the state's Supreme Court -- which has nine members, including eight who were appointed by Democratic governors -- has blocked some of the abortion restrictions and chastised state lawmakers for passing measures that are clearly unconstitutional.

In a 2010 opinion striking down a law that required women to receive an ultrasound and listen to descriptions of the images before receiving an abortion, the court wrote, "We are growing weary of admonishing the Legislature for so flagrantly violating the terms of the Oklahoma Constitution. It is a waste of time for the Legislature and the Court, and a waste of the taxpayer's money" (Carmon, MSNBC, 10/31).