Oklahoma Supreme Court Keeps Pre-Roe Ban in Effect
For Immediate Release: March 21, 2023
Today, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized the state constitution protects the right to abortion in life-threatening situations but nonetheless upheld the state’s “pre-Roe” ban. Today’s decision means most Oklahomans will still not be able to access abortion care, a blow to the entire region. In May 2022, Oklahoma became the first state to ban abortion entirely.
In its ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized that “the Oklahoma Constitution creates an inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life.” The court also said that doctors should be able to use their own medical judgment to determine whether to provide an abortion when a patient’s life is at risk “due to the pregnancy itself or due to a medical condition that the woman is either currently suffering from or likely to suffer from during the pregnancy.”
In doing so, Oklahoma’s high court struck down S.B. 612, one of two total criminal abortion bans, stating that it violates Oklahomans’ right to access abortion care in life-threatening situations. However, the court let the 1910 pre-Roe criminal ban remain in effect, arguing that the law allows abortion access in those dangerous circumstances. While the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized a limited right to abortion, it declined to weigh in on whether the state constitution broadly protects the right in other circumstances. This decision means that abortion will remain largely unavailable in the state.
The court has yet to rule on several other abortion bans, including two citizen-enforced, Texas copycat abortion bans and a ban on the standard method of abortion after approximately 14 weeks of pregnancy.
The coalition fighting these laws includes the Center for Reproductive Rights, Dechert LLP, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Kelley Bodell, on behalf of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, Dr. Alan Braid, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.
Statements from litigators and plaintiffs:
“People’s lives have been endangered by Oklahoma’s cruel abortion bans, and now doctors will be able to help pregnant people whose lives they believe are at risk,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are disappointed that the Court declined to rule whether the state Constitution also protects the right to abortion outside of these circumstances. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s own precedent and the plain language of the Oklahoma Constitution guarantee the right to liberty and assure that a broad right to reproductive autonomy exists. Yet Oklahomans are still being denied the right to make decisions about their own bodies, families, and futures.”
“For nearly a year, Oklahomans have been deprived of abortion access while this court waited to act — and now, the court has robbed them of the right to decide what is best for their own bodies, lives, and futures,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “While we are relieved Oklahomans facing life-threatening situations have a right to care, the decision to maintain the state’s pre-Roe ban is unconscionable. This decision guarantees that thousands of people will continue to suffer through forced pregnancies — and the health risks that come with it — or need to make extraordinary sacrifices to receive abortion care outside of their communities. Still others will be subject to scrutiny, and even judicial involvement, for their pregnancy decisions. Planned Parenthood will do everything in our power to fight this crisis, even as the courts abandon Oklahomans.”
"Today’s decision is the first step in what will be a long journey to restore real, meaningful rights of Oklahomans over their own bodies. But make no mistake: this is a small step. The Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized one fundamental truth: patients must be permitted to access critical care to save their lives. But the right recognized today is so limited that most people who need abortion will not be able to access it,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “This ruling will have severe repercussions for the health and well-being of Oklahomans. So many people who need care have been left behind by this court. Health care providers’ hands are still tied by an abortion ban that would make them criminals for providing essential care. With abortion access functionally eliminated in the state, Planned Parenthood Great Plains will continue doing everything we can to be here for people who need us, just as we have been for decades.”
“Oklahomans deserve better. Our state Supreme Court’s decision leaves abortion care out of reach for many, especially those who already face systemic barriers to medical care,” said Tamya Cox-Touré, co-chair, Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. “Often, it is people living with low incomes and people of color who cannot take time off work, find childcare, or afford the cost of travel to go to another state for abortion care.”
“Today, the court finally recognized that pregnant Oklahomans facing life-threatening conditions should be able to get the time-sensitive, essential care they need,” said Dr. Alan Braid, abortion provider and plaintiff in the case. “Still, this ruling leaves out too many Oklahomans. Oklahomans shouldn't have to travel across state lines just to reach an abortion clinic, and it is heartbreaking that many will not be able to do so. I will continue to serve patients in the region with the highest quality care at new clinics in Illinois and New Mexico."