Oklahoma Watch
Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021
Capitol Watch

Oklahoma Abortion Laws in the Spotlight After U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Texas Law

The Oklahoma House of Representatives opened the 2020 legislative session on Feb. 3 with a prayer. Lawmakers passed five bills last session targeting abortions that are now being challenged in district court. (Zheng Qu/Oklahoma Watch)

By Trevor Brown | Capitol/Investigative Reporter

A 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday sent political shockwaves across the country after the justices decided to uphold a Texas law that says doctors cannot perform abortions if a heartbeat is detected.

The law essentially bans most abortions since a heartbeat is generally detected around six weeks, before many women are even aware they are pregnant.

In Texas, the impact of the law is already playing out. Abortion providers there say clinics in surrounding states, especially Oklahoma, are now seeing an increase in Texas patients.

But the law could have a far greater reach. The Supreme Court ruling could signal that the justices are prepared to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which would pave the wave for Republican-led states such as Oklahoma to ban abortions without the threat of the courts blocking those laws.

Oklahoma lawmakers were hoping for just such an occasion earlier this year when they passed a series of new abortion laws. This includes:

  • House Bill 1102: Declares the performance of an abortion as “unprofessional conduct” and directs the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision and the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners to revoke the licenses of physicians who perform abortions for at least one year.
  • House Bill 2441: Prohibits an abortion when an unborn child has been determined to have a detectable heartbeat. Violating the law is a homicide.
  • House Bill 1904: States that only board certified doctors in obstetrics and gynecology can perform abortions.
  • Senate Bill 778: Bans anyone from providing abortion-inducing drugs by courier, delivery or mail. It also outlines other guidelines and restrictions for how abortion-inducing drugs can be used.
  • Senate Bill 779: Sets more guidelines and restrictions on how abortion-inducing drugs can be administered.

In each of these bills, the vote was almost always along party lines with Republicans backing them and Democrats opposing them. (A couple of Republican senators opposed some of the bills, arguing they didn’t go far enough).

Oklahoma courts have routinely blocked many of the abortion restrictions that lawmakers have passed throughout the years. But the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Texas’ latest law could change that dynamic.

However, a group of reproductive rights advocates announced last week that they are suing to prevent the five new Oklahoma anti-abortion laws from taking effect. The lawsuit is in its early phases and its success might hinge on what the U.S. Supreme Court does during its next term.

I want to hear what you think? Are you worried about the new potential abortion restrictions. Or do you think it’s the right step for the state and the country? Let me know at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or Twitter at @tbrownokc.

The Top Story

Weatherford elementary students are seen eating lunch in the school’s cafeteria. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Oklahoma’s Ban on School Mask Mandates is on Hold. Here’s What You Need to Know

Oklahoma’s law preventing schools from mandating masks is temporarily on hold due to a judge’s ruling Wednesday morning. 

That means school districts can move forward with a mask requirement on school campuses potentially later this week or early next week, as long as the mandate gives parents the ability to opt out.

Oklahoma Watch‘s Jennifer Palmer reports some districts, like Oklahoma City Public Schools and Santa Fe South charter school, already require masks with an opt-out provision where parents can fill out a form to request an exemption for their child to attend school without a mask for a personal, religious or medical reason.  [Read More …]

Tweet Watch

The coming battle for Oklahoma’s most competitive congressional district is beginning to take shape.

Former U.S. Senate hopeful Abby Broyles announced last week that she will seek the Democratic nomination for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District seat, which covers central Oklahoma, including Oklahoma City.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice, a Republican, won the seat last year when she defeated one-term congresswoman Democrat Kendra Horn. Bice and Broyles are so far the only candidates to file Federal Election Commission paperwork to seek the seat in 2022.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • Dewey County has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in Oklahoma. Locals say politics, mistrust of government and Facebook are to blame. [The Frontier]
  • School-age kids made up almost a quarter of the new COVID-19 cases across Oklahoma last week, according to data from the state Health Department.  [The Oklahoman]
  • Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said an emergency declaration was necessary to help Stillwater Medical, a regional hospital that treats patients beyond Payne County’s borders and has had patients on emergency room holds awaiting rooms. [Stillwater News Press]
  • Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Kevin Corbett told House and Senate members that the agency has used savings generated from the Medicaid expansion, along with enhanced federal COVID-19 relief funds for states, to pay for the expansion so far. Gov. Kevin Stitt and other opponents of the 2020 state question that paved the way for the expansion had repeatedly warned it would cost the state too much money. [The Associated Press]

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