Legal Challenges Filed to Block Two Extreme Oklahoma Abortion Bans
For Immediate Release: April 29, 2022
Today, a coalition of Oklahoma abortion providers and a reproductive justice organization filed two separate challenges in state court to block two different abortion bans passed during the 2022 state legislative session. The six-week Texas-style abortion ban (S.B. 1503; challenge linked here), which passed today with no debate or questions allowed, would become effective immediately upon Gov. Kevin Stitt’s signature. The other ban (S.B. 612; challenge linked here) would make providing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine. The challenge to S.B. 1503 was filed directly in Oklahoma Supreme Court. The challenge to S.B. 612, filed in trial court, was added to an existing case challenging other abortion restrictions enacted in 2021 that are currently blocked.
S.B. 1503 creates a bounty-hunting scheme similar to Texas’s S.B. 8, which encourages the general public to bring costly and harassing lawsuits against anyone they believe has provided or aided providing abortion in violation of the ban. Under this scheme, anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider, a health center worker, or any person who helps someone access an abortion after about six weeks in Oklahoma would be rewarded with at least $10,000. This scheme has successfully banned most abortions in Texas since it took effect in September 2021, with devastating effects on patients who are forced to flee the state for care, seek abortion outside the health care system, or carry pregnancies against their will.
Oklahoma will become the second state this year, after Idaho, to follow Texas’s example in attempting to cut patients off from abortions at the earliest stages of pregnancy even while Roe still stands. In a move reserved for constitutional crises and other urgent situations, the challenge to S.B. 1503 was filed directly in Oklahoma Supreme Court. Petitioners requested an emergency order blocking the law from taking effect while litigation on the merits of the law proceeds. Although federal challenges to Texas’s similar ban have been unsuccessful in blocking the law, there is significant precedent in Oklahoma state court to support plaintiffs’ arguments for relief preventing this ban from going into effect.
The other ban challenged today (S.B. 612) is a total ban on abortion in Oklahoma that is set to take effect in late summer 2022. S.B. 612 was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt on April 12 and would make providing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine. Today’s filing seeks to add a challenge to S.B. 612 to an existing case – Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice v. O’Connor – which was filed in state court last year against a slew of abortion restrictions passed in 2021. Those included a ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy and a separate total abortion ban, which declared that providing any abortions qualifies as “unprofessional conduct” by physicians resulting in loss of licensure. All five laws challenged in the original suit are currently blocked. In today’s filing, the plaintiffs requested to have S.B. 612 temporarily blocked like these other laws as litigation moves forward.
Quotes from attorneys and plaintiffs
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court has repeatedly found that the state legislature’s extreme attempts to restrict abortion are unconstitutional, and these bans are some of the most extreme yet,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are asking the state courts to uphold the State Constitution and apply Oklahoma precedent to block these insidious abortion bans before they take effect. Oklahoma is a critical state for abortion access right now, with many Texans fleeing to Oklahoma for abortion care. These bans would further decimate abortion access across the South.”
“To limit a person’s freedom and autonomy is unconscionable and unconstitutional. Unless these abortion bans are stopped, Oklahomans will be robbed of the freedom to control their own bodies and futures,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “For more than seven months, Oklahoma abortion providers have taken in patients forced to leave Texas for essential care. The governor may joke about stopping people from crossing the Oklahoma border for abortion, but this is no laughing matter. Unless these bans are blocked, patients will be turned away, people seeking abortion will be unable to access essential care in their own communities, and their loved ones could be stopped from supporting them due to fear of being sued. We’ve told Oklahoma politicians loud and clear: keep your bans off our bodies. Today, we’re taking the state to court to stop these bans from robbing Oklahomans of abortion access.”
“These abortion bans will push abortion access out of reach for many communities who already face often insurmountable barriers to health care, including Black and brown communities, low-income communities, and people who live in rural areas,” said Tamya Cox-Touré, co-chair, Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. “These are the same communities who are most impacted by the maternal health crisis occurring in our country and in our state. The lawmakers who passed these bans do not care about access to healthcare, and we can’t allow this law to take effect.”
“As a physician who also provides abortions in Texas, I have seen firsthand the impact of a bounty-hunting scheme and abortion ban on patients and physicians,” said Dr. Alan Braid, owner, Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic. “They are designed to threaten and intimidate physicians into not providing constitutionally protected health care, and force pregnant people to travel hundreds of miles to receive care. The pain this has caused in Texas is unfathomable, and I will fight alongside these other providers and advocates to prevent this law from taking effect in Oklahoma.”
“Patients who are crossing state lines to get abortion services have the exact same question we do: why are their rights to make personal medical decisions less protected in one state than in another?” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Planned Parenthood Great Plains’ providers have served thousands of Texans in the past seven months because of their state’s harsh bounty-hunting scheme, and we have been proud to stand with them and provide essential, constitutionally protected abortion services. Now, rather than serving as a haven for patients unable to get care at home, Oklahoma politicians have made outcasts of their own people. With today’s filings, we lift up the patients who will otherwise be unable to get care and ask the court to do its most essential function: honor the constitution and the individuals who need its protections.”
If any of the abortion bans the legislature has passed in this session or the last take effect, abortion access will be almost entirely cut off for the thousands of patients who receive abortions in Oklahoma each year. The bans would also decimate abortion access for surrounding states: Since Texas’s S.B. 8 took effect, Oklahoma clinics have reported huge upticks in Texas patients, resulting in weeks-long wait times. Planned Parenthood released data in February showing that, in the first four months after S.B. 8 took effect, more than half of the patients at its Oklahoma health centers were from Texas, compared to less than 10% in the prior year. Overall, during that period, these Oklahoma health centers saw a nearly 2500% increase in Texas patients.
The challenge to S.B. 1503 was filed in Oklahoma Supreme Court against the State of Oklahoma and all 77 state court clerks. The plaintiffs – Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, Dr. Alan Braid, Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma – are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Blake Patton.
Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice v. O’Connor (to which the challenge to S.B. 612 was added today) was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Dechert LLP, and Blake Patton on behalf of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, Dr. Alan Braid, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.