The state’s Attorney General said most abortion remains illegal in Oklahoma, despite Wednesday’s ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court that two anti-abortion laws enacted in 2022 are unconstitutional.
Elected state leaders and women’s reproductive rights advocates spent Wednesday reacting to a state Supreme Court decision that declared House Bill 4327 and Senate Bill 1503 unconstitutional, a year after they became law. SB 1503 prohibits abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat, except in cases of medical emergency. HB 4327 is a total ban on abortion unless it is necessary to save the life of the mother or the pregnancy is the result of rape, sexual assault or incest that has been reported to law enforcement. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed both into law after they passed the House and Senate in the 2022 legislative session.
Justices voted 6-3 that the laws are unconstitutional, based on a decision they made in March on the case Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice v. Drummond. That opinion said the state’s constitution protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to save her life.
Referencing that ruling, the court’s majority said SB 1503 provides even more extreme language than what the court already found unconstitutional in the Drummond case, meaning the court had to find HB 1503 unconstitutional too. HB 4327 uses identical language found in the statute ruled upon in Drummond, meaning this bill also is unconstitutional, the justices wrote. While the petitioners filed their challenge on multiple grounds, justices said the unconstitutionality of the two laws made further decisions unnecessary.
In addition to prohibiting abortion after certain cutoff points, the laws also contained a “civil enforcement mechanism” that drew strong criticism: private citizens may file civil lawsuits up to $10,000 against anyone who performs or assists in performing an abortion.
Justices said that because the laws were found to be unconstitutional, they didn’t have to address the remaining challenges filed by petitioners. Granting relief through the ruling means the laws no longer are in effect. But, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said despite the court’s ruling, Oklahoma’s 1910 law prohibiting abortion remains in place.
“Except for certain circumstances outlined in that statute, abortion is still unlawful in the State of Oklahoma,” Drummond said in a statement.
The Center for Reproductive Rights said Wednesday that while abortion remains largely unavailable in Oklahoma, the court’s ruling ensures “Oklahoma’s vigilante bans cannot hold doctors back from providing life-saving care.” Challengers have said the laws helped create an atmosphere so chaotic, Oklahoma hospitals can’t articulate clear policies for emergency abortions.
A survey the center conducted earlier this year by contacting all 34 Oklahoma hospitals that provide prenatal and peripartum care, showed 66 percent (22 of the 34) couldn’t provide information on procedures, policies or support to doctors when it was clinically necessary to terminate a pregnancy to save a woman’s life. Only two provided legal support for clinicians in such instances. Fourteen hospitals provided unclear or incomplete answers about whether doctors require approval to provide a clinically necessary abortion, according to the survey.
“This ruling, while providing clarity in emergency situations, does not change the landscape of care significantly,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Oklahoma City. “But importantly, the court did strike down contradictory and unconstitutional laws that violate the rights of Oklahomans. While we are relieved the court upheld the right to abortion in medical emergencies, this does not diminish the fact that care remains out of reach for the majority of Oklahomans. We know firsthand the toll these unnecessary burdens place on our patients and we’ll continue to help those reach care when they need it most.”