Oklahoma Supreme Court finds ‘limited right’ to abortion in state constitution, leaving access out-of-reach for many
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the state’s constitution guarantees a “limited right” to abortions after reproductive rights activists challenged the abortion ban that was signed into law last year, with the court issuing a partial injunction on a bill prohibiting women from terminating their pregnancies while upholding another.
In May, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed into law two pieces legislation that made performing abortions felonies punishable by imprisonment and fines of up to $100,000 for providers. The law did not include exceptions for rape or incest.
Shortly after the bans were signed, abortion activists filed a lawsuit arguing the bills violated parts of the Oklahoma state constitution that guarantee an individual’s right to liberty. The plaintiffs argued that the right to liberty was infringed upon when the state forced people to “carry pregnancies to term against their will.”
In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the state’s bill of rights “protects the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy in order to preserve her life.”
“Having determined the Oklahoma Constitution protects the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy in order to preserve her life, we hold that 63 0.S. Supp. 2022, § 1-731.4 does not pass strict scrutiny review and is void and unenforceable,” the court’s ruling stated.
The bill that was cited banned health care providers from performing or attempting to perform abortions. While it did include exceptions for medical emergencies where abortions are necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life, the court found that it did not pass a “strict scrutiny review and was thus “void and unenforceable.”
However, the court upheld a separate measure that also criminalizes performing abortions. That law was enacted before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and was considered null before Roe was overturned last year. The court ruled, however, that this older legislation still allowed for a woman to terminate her pregnancy in order to “preserve her life.”
Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices John Kane, Dustin Rowe, Dana Kuehn and Richard Darby dissented on the court’s ruling, with Darby writing in his opinion that the law was in line with the state’s constitution.
Reproductive rights activists expressed dismay at the continued lack of abortion access that would occur in light of this ruling.
“Today’s decision means most Oklahomans will still not be able to access abortion care, a blow to the entire region. Since May 2022, abortion has been completely unavailable in Oklahoma,” the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement.
Since the overturning of Roe, many doctors in states with strict abortion bans have been left in limbo when it comes to patients, many of whom require miscarriages for pregnancies that are no longer viable.
Earlier this month, a group of Texas women filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that the abortion ban in Texas endangered their lives due to the vague language over when a physician can terminate a pregnancy to save a woman’s life. Under Texas law, no abortions can be performed as long as a fetal heartbeat can still be detected, and the current ban does not specify what procedures can be performed when a pregnant woman’s life is in danger.
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