Oklahoma: Abortion and Reproductive Care in the Sooner State

Last June, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided the Dobbs versus Jackson Women’s Health Organization case on abortion. This has led the United States to become a patchwork of different situation, when it comes to the legality of abortion, in many cases also with implications for pregnancy care overall, and in some cases with fertility treatment being threatened as well. The problems with pregnancy care overall include care for spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) and stillbirths and care for ectopic pregnancies. The Dobbs versus Jackson Women’s Health case involved a Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, meaning 15 weeks counting from the first day of bleeding of the last menstrual period. 6 out of 9 justices voted to uphold the Mississippi, but 5 of those six also joined onto a majority opinion written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that protected the right to choose.

In the aftermath of Dobbs, states that are very supportive of abortion and reproductive rights, both for their own residents and those from out-of-state, include New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, New Mexico, Washington, and North Carolina. Of such states, many protect the right to choose up to the point of fetal viability (24-26 weeks gestation) or close to that point. Additionally, there are states with strong majorities of anti-choice Republican politicians in the state legislatures and governors, because of either the state constitution or the court system. Such states include Kansas, Alaska, Montana, and Ohio. In Kansas, despite its strong Republican leanings and active anti-abortion politicians and organizations, the people voted strongly on a ballot measure in favor of keeping a guarantee of the right to choose in the Kansas state Constitution.

There also are many states with laws extremely hostile to abortion, and with it reproductive health overall. Such states include Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, and Missouri, and they also include our highlighted state for today, the Sooner State, Oklahoma. Sadly, Oklahoma is among the absolute most hostile US states against abortion in the US. When the Dobbs decision was handed down, initially an Oklahoma 6-week ban went into effect, which had been a trigger law, and subsequently a full ban went into effect. The only exceptions allowed are to save the mother’s life and the law is written in a way that will make healthcare providers think twice about what may or may not count as protecting the mother’s life. Abortion is treated as a felony for the providers with possible prison sentences and loss of medical licensure, and there are no exceptions for rape and incest.

Given all of this, we have to say that Oklahoma is not an abortion-safe state. If you reside in Oklahoma and need an abortion, the best thing for you to do, if you are able, is to travel to a state that allows abortion. There are organizations that can help you with travel expenses, lodging and other related issues. Bordering Oklahoma, the states of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas all have legal abortion. In the even that you absolutely cannot travel, a last resort option is that it is fairly easy to obtain the needed medications for a medication abortion via mail, from a healthcare provider working from a state with legal abortion. Medication abortion is possible up to a gestational age of 77 days. Medically, the abortion that you would experience as a result of the medication would be indistinguishable from a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). This means that, if you receive abortion medications and take them in the privacy of your home in Oklahoma, and if you then arrive at a clinic or an emergency department, on account of symptoms, such as bleeding, cramping, fever, or anything else, you will not be in any kind of trouble —as long as you do not declare that your abortion was self-induced. In some cases, a  thoughtful doctor or nurse may warn you that you are not required to reveal anything about what led to the abortion, but not in all cases. If you are in a situation in which you cannot travel to a pro-choice state, if you undergo a medication abortion with help from someone in another state, and then you feel that you need medical help, simply act as if you are suffering a spontaneous abortion. Say that you are having a miscarriage. This will keep you out of trouble, plus it will keep the healthcare providers out of trouble. In a state such as Oklahoma, they can actually get into serious trouble for managing the aftermath of your abortion, if it goes into the record as an induced abortion. Most likely, with a medication abortion, you will be able to get through the entire thing at home and from a distance your out-of-state providers will be communicating with you, making sure that there are no signs of trouble that would require you to seek care in person.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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