Oklahoma’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that two state laws banning abortion are unconstitutional, but the procedure remains illegal in the state in nearly all cases except life-threatening situations.
In a 6-3 ruling, the high court said the two bans are unconstitutional because they require a “medical emergency” before a doctor can perform an abortion. The court said this language conflicts with a previous ruling it issued in March that determined the Oklahoma Constitution provides an “inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life.”
The Supreme Court said in relation to the ruling passed in March that “preserving the life” of a woman is much different than a “medical emergency.”
This means that abortions can now be offered by doctors for a broader spectrum of health conditions, even if the doctors cannot establish with certainty that a pregnancy will lead to a medical emergency, according to the ruling.
“Absolute certainty,” by the physician that the mother’s life could be endangered, “is not required, however, mere possibility or speculation is insufficient” to determine that an abortion is needed to preserve the woman’s life, according to the ruling.
The court, however, declined to rule on whether the state’s constitution grants the right to an abortion for other reasons.
The March ruling says that a woman has the right under the state’s constitution to receive an abortion to preserve her life if her doctor determines that continuing the pregnancy would endanger it due to a condition she has or is likely to develop during the pregnancy.
In other words, an abortion can be done to avert a possible future medical emergency.
“Requiring one to wait until there is a medical emergency would further endanger the life of the pregnant woman and does not serve a compelling state interest,” the March ruling states.
Despite the court’s March decision that the requirement to wait until an active medical emergency violated the state constitution, there remained uncertainty because of the two laws that remained in effect.
“With their decision today, the court has ensured that the March decision will be fully realized,” said Rabia Muqaddam, a senior staff attorney at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the laws on behalf of a Tulsa abortion provider.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling last year that overturned Roe v. Wade and the nationwide right to abortion, tighter abortion restrictions have been enacted in most Republican-controlled states, and protections of abortion access have gone into effect in most that are dominated by Democrats.
The laws struck down on Wednesday in Oklahoma both included a civil-enforcement mechanism, first enacted in Texas in 2021, that allowed citizens to sue someone who either performed or helped someone perform an abortion.
“Despite the court’s decisions today on SB 1503 and HB 4327, Oklahoma’s 1910 law prohibiting abortion remains in place,” Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a statement. “Except for certain circumstances outlined in that statute, abortion is still unlawful in the state of Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma’s 1910 law makes it a felony crime punishable by up to five years in prison for anyone to perform an abortion or help a woman obtain an abortion unless it is “necessary to preserve her life.”
The court’s decision was decried by Republican leaders and Gov. Kevin Stitt, who have worked for years to tightly restrict abortion access in Oklahoma.
“This court has once more over-involved itself in the state’s democratic process, and has interceded to undo legislation created by the will of the people,” Stitt said in a statement. “I agree with Justice [Dustin] Rowe’s dissent, ‘The issues presented in this matter are political questions, which are better resolved by the people via our democratic process.’”
Nevada Loosens Restrictions
In Nevada, Gov. Joe Lombardo has approved a bill decriminalizing out-of-state residents seeking an abortion and in-state providers.
The move makes Nevada one of few Republican-led states to enact such pro-abortion policies. Despite identifying as “pro-life,” Lombardo pledged to honor the 1990 referendum vote that granted abortion up to 24 weeks in Nevada.
The legislation built upon a previous executive order issued by former Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, which prohibited state agencies from aiding out-of-state investigations that might lead to the prosecution of abortion patients traveling to Nevada.
Abortion Rates Fall
In the last year, more than half of all U.S. states have moved to restrict abortions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court returning decision-making power to the states.
According to data in a report by the pro-abortion Society for Family Planning (pdf), around 25 states have enacted laws limiting abortions after 15 weeks or even earlier. Among them, 15 states have opted for nearly complete bans on abortion, while eight states await court decisions before enforcing their laws owing to protests from pro-abortion groups.
Some states have seen ongoing legal battles over newly implemented abortion restrictions. The report states that this has led to a situation where the legal status of abortion is being altered on a week-by-week basis, causing confusion and disruption in abortion provision.
Abortions fell by 32,260 in states with active restrictions from July 2022 to December 2022, according to the data.
However, the changes triggered by the Dobbs v. Jackson decision of the Supreme Court, which sent abortion decisions back to states, may have caused the number of U.S. abortions to drop from 987,240 to 924,876 per year, according to the Society for Family Planning report.
Abortion Survey Shows Troubling Results
Abortion advocates argue that the procedure gives women a choice about motherhood.
But new statistics suggest that “abortion culture” pressures women into choosing things they don’t want.
A survey of 226 post-abortion women, published in the May 2023 issue of the Cureus Journal of Medical Science, revealed that only 33 percent said they wanted abortions.
The survey found that 43 percent of women accepted getting an abortion but felt doing so was inconsistent with their values. An additional 24 percent said they didn’t want an abortion or were coerced into getting one.
And 60 percent of the women surveyed said they would have preferred to have a child instead of an abortion. But they felt they needed more support and financial security.
“The one-third of women for whom abortion is wanted and consistent with their values and preferences are most likely over-represented in studies initiated at abortion clinics,” researchers concluded.
The only women who said they benefited from their abortions were those who wanted them in the first place, the survey results showed.
And 67 percent of women who got abortions they didn’t want told researchers that their mental health, stress, and negative emotions worsened after the procedure.
The Associated Press, Jackson Elliott, and Caden Pearson contributed to this report.