July Policy Radar: OK Abortion Legislation
By Mary Tidwell
On April 26, 2021, Governor Kevin Stitt signed three bills restricting abortion rights: House Bills 1102, 1904, and 2441. HB 2441 prohibits anyone from performing an abortion on a fetus with a detectable heartbeat. HB 1102 considers abortion that is not deemed “medically necessary to preserve life or prevent irreversible impairment of a patient’s major bodily function” unnecessary and classified under “unprofessional conduct,” putting doctors who perform abortions at risk of losing their licenses and facing legal repercussions. HB 1904 requires that abortions only be performed by board-certified obstetricians and gynecologists (1).
In addition to these bills, as of January 1, Stitt also mandated nearly a dozen new restrictions on abortion, as follows:
- A patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided.
- Private insurance policies and health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act, and insurance policies for public employees only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, unless individuals purchase an optional rider (policy provision) at an additional cost.
- The use of telemedicine to administer a medical abortion is prohibited.
- The parent of a minor must consent and be notified before an abortion is provided.
- Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.
- A patient must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion.
- An abortion may be performed at 20 or more weeks post-fertilization only in cases of life endangerment or severely compromised health.
- The state prohibits abortions performed for the purpose of sex selection
- The state requires abortion clinics to meet standards related to their physical plant, equipment, and staffing, which are reportedly unnecessary and burdensome (2).
It’s important to note that a heartbeat can be detected as early as 6 weeks and is usually always detectable at 10 weeks after gestation (3). Individuals learn they are pregnant, on average, at 5.5 weeks into the pregnancy. This increases to 7 or more weeks for people who are younger in age and lower-income. This goes to say, by the time most individuals learn they are pregnant, they will be unable to undergo a legal abortion in the state of Oklahoma. If a doctor does perform an abortion when a heartbeat is detectable, the doctor can be charged with murder.
According to Amnesty International, the abortion rate in countries that prohibit abortion altogether is 37 per 1,000 individuals. In countries that broadly allow for abortion, the rate is 34 per 1,000 (4). This suggests regardless of legality, abortions will take place at nearly the same rate. The World Health Organization deemed unsafe abortions the third leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide (5). Outlawing abortion has been shown time and time again to have little effect on decreasing abortion rates while increasing unnecessary deaths. Strict laws on abortion disproportionately target marginalized groups such as those who are considered low income, refugees and migrants, adolescents, LGBTQ+, and minority and indigenous women (6).
As a mental health professional, woman, and Oklahoman, I find Stitt’s actions to be unfortunately unsurprising but also alarming. I feel concern for myself, my clients, and all my fellow Oklahomans. I mourn the individuals, families, children, and communities who will be impacted by the murderous actions of our government.