October 3, 2013

Abortion in Oklahoma

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Q: In light of Oklahoma’s passing some controversial restrictions on abortion, does that mean the state has a high or rising abortion rate?

A: Oklahoma has the 15th lowest abortion rate in the nation, and the number of abortions has dropped steadily in recent years, reflecting a national trend.

The state’s abortion rate was 8.8 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, defined as ages 15 to 44, with a total of 6,430 abortions in 2009, the latest year for which national data is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national rate was nearly twice as high, at 15.1. Oklahoma’s rate has been at 9 or above for the past several years. The nation’s has been at 16 or above in most of the recent years.

The decline nationally occurred in years before many states began enacting some of their most stringent restrictions on abortion. However, access to abortion providers and legal restrictions are among factors that can affect the abortion rates. Other reasons could be the economic downturn, more women delaying pregnancy and increased use of contraception.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches abortion, Oklahoma has restrictions on abortion ranging from a ban on partial-birth abortion to requiring abortions in the second trimester to be performed in a hospital.

The state law drawing the most attention now limited physicians’ ability to prescribe pills often used to terminate early pregnancies. The two pills make up a regimen known as RU-486.

The Oklahoma law prevented doctors from deviating from the dosages originally approved by the FDA, although since then a lower dosage has been found by doctors to be preferred. This is known as an “off-label use,” which is common for medications. An Oklahoma district court judge struck down the law prohibiting off-label usage, and the state Supreme Court ruled the law violated a U.S. Supreme Court decision on state abortion restrictions.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that court may take up the case. It asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to elaborate on its ruling, and the state court ruled the law unconstitutional in October.

The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, an abortion-rights group, has argued that the law was aimed at banning all drug-induced abortions. Such medical abortions are becoming a new focus in the war over abortion availability as women increasingly are able to use prescription drugs, perhaps taken at home, for an abortion instead of having to undergo surgery at a clinic.


Abortion Rates in Oklahoma
(number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44)
2004: 9
2005: 9
2006: 9.8
2007: 9.2
2008: 9
2009: 8.8

United States
2004: 16
2005: 15
2006: 16.1
2007: 16
2008: 16.6
2009: 15.1