It would impact people who don’t even live in Oklahoma.
All across the United States, reproductive rights are under attack, and things are escalating. On April 5 Oklahoma lawmakers approved a near-total ban on abortion, making the state yet another battleground for reproductive rights. While the state’s bill is bad enough for people in Oklahoma, the move could have repercussions even beyond Oklahoma’s borders — and that’s not even counting its impact on the upcoming high-stakes Supreme Court case that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
The ban, called Senate Bill 612 (SB612), would make performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine, “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.” The bill originally passed in the state Senate in March 2021, and on April 5, 2022, the Oklahoma House overwhelmingly passed the bill in a 70-14 vote, sending it to Gov. Kevin Stitt — a staunch supporter of anti-choice legislation. “I promised Oklahomans I would sign every piece of pro-life legislation that came across my desk and I am proud to keep that promise,” Governor Stitt said in a Sept. 21, 2021 public address. If Stitt signs the legislation, it would take effect on Aug. 26, 2022 as one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the nation.
For anti-choice legislators in the state, the timing is perfect: The bill’s probable passing comes as the Supreme Court weighs a ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that could severely undermine the abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. At the center of the case is a restrictive Mississippi law that would effectively ban all abortions after 15 weeks — well before the fetal viability precedent set by Roe, which usually occurs around the 22nd-24th week of pregnancy. If the Mississippi law is upheld, states all over the nation could constitutionally pass laws banning abortions before viability.
While the bill will most obviously affect pregnant people in Oklahoma, the ripple effects will be felt well outside the state as well — including by out-of-state residents who have been relying on Oklahoma clinics for abortion care. Since Texas began enforcing its own near-total abortion ban, SB8, in September 2021, a deluge of Texans have been flocking to Oklahoma clinics to access the abortion care they couldn’t obtain in their own state. According to a Feb. 24 study from Planned Parenthood, researchers found that Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas’ neighboring areas (Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri) saw a roughly 800% increase in patients from the state from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 in 2021, compared to the same time period in 2020.
But Oklahoma can only help its neighboring states so much. As of April 6, it only has four operating abortion clinics. Because of the dramatic influx of new patients from Texas, these clinics, which were already strained under a barrage of anti-abortion legislation, have been all but pushed to their breaking points.
The Oklahoma bill could be an early look at the potential impact of a post-Roe world, in which patchwork abortion laws could create abortion “deserts” in large swaths of the United States. But even now, these types of bans are reaping harsh effects: In some rural areas, patients had to travel over 180 miles to obtain the abortion care they needed, per a 2017 study from The Lancet Public Health Journal. And according to a 2017 study from the Guttmacher Institute, researchers found that more often than not, abortion clinics are out of reach for patients in Oklahoma — 53% of pregnancy-capable people live in counties without an abortion clinic. In real numbers, this means that nearly a million people in Oklahoma alone would be left without an abortion care provider if the bill passes, and that’s not even counting new patients from neighboring states.
Anti-choice bans like SB612 have devastating effects on those seeking abortions outside of their state’s legal window, and often limit abortion care access to those who can afford to take time off work and travel to another state to obtain the health care they need. In states with strict anti-choice laws and few abortion clinics, like Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri, up to 74% of pregnant people seeking an abortion had to travel to another state to access care.
Abortion advocates are calling out bills like Oklahoma’s. “These legislators have continued their relentless attacks on our freedoms,” Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said in an April 5 “Bans Off Oklahoma” rally outside the state capitol. “These restrictions are not about improving the safety of the work that we do. They are about shaming and stigmatizing people who need and deserve abortion access.”