Thousands of women have traveled out-of-state or ordered abortion pills online to end pregnancies in the year and a half since Oklahoma banned most abortions, data shows. Legislators have introduced a new wave of bills to crack down on these alternatives and further narrow state law.

There have been no reported abortions in Oklahoma since the state ban took effect in June 2022, down from 3,665 in 2021, according to state health data. At the same time, the number of patients who’ve sought abortion care from out-of-state providers rose sharply. At least 2,365 Oklahomans traveled to Colorado, New Mexico or Kansas for an abortion in 2022. Of those, 2,026 traveled to Kansas — up from 137 Oklahoma patients the previous year. 

Oklahoma had the fifth-highest rate increase in orders of abortion pills immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, according to a study of online abortion pill orders through the provider Aid Access. The organization received 716 orders from Oklahomans in 2022 and 1,683 in 2023, a spokesperson for the group said. 

“We got the abortion clinics closed in 2022,” said Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, who co-authored a bill working its way through the Oklahoma Legislature that would outlaw the distribution of drugs used for abortion. “That was great. But what some people pointed out is that the use of the mailorder medicine was exploding. So we gained so much in the protection of innocent unborn life, but then we’re losing a lot of it through these medications.” 

An Oklahoma House of Representatives committee voted to advance the bill on Feb. 14 and it’s now eligible for a vote of the full House. The bill would impose fines of up to $100,000 or as many as 10 years in prison for those who distribute the pills, but not for women who are prescribed them. Restrictions on abortion pills in Wyoming, North Carolina and West Virginia have faced legal challenges. Olsen said he expects a similar legal fight in Oklahoma. 

Some bills introduced at the Legislature this year would allow for the criminal prosecution of pregnant women, but Gov. Kevin Stitt and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat both said in recent press conferences that they wouldn’t support the legislation. 

“I’ve never wanted to punish the female seeking the abortion,” Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said during a Feb. 8 Oklahoma Press Association event. “I’ve always wanted to try to protect that unborn life. That’s where my focus has been, that’s where my focus will continue to be.”

Other bills propose further limiting the state’s narrow exception that allows abortion to save the life of a mother. Bills must make it out of committee by Feb. 29 in order to be considered by the full Legislature this year. 

Abolitionist groups in Oklahoma support a total ban on abortion without exceptions and say lawmakers aren’t doing enough to prevent the procedure. They maintain that legislators are endorsing abortion by allowing exemptions in law and preventing women from being criminally charged. Sen. Dusty Deevers, R-Elgin, and Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, spoke in favor of stricter laws at a rally organized by the groups Abolitionists Rising and Abolish Abortion Oklahoma at the state Capitol in early February.

Deevers has introduced a bill classifying abortion as homicide and allowing parents and grandparents to file wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of fetuses, which he said establishes “equal protection under the law” for unborn children. Women who seek abortions and doctors who perform the procedure could face charges ranging from manslaughter to first-degree murder and potentially face the death penalty. Premeditation would justify a heavier sentence, Deevers said. The bill would make exceptions for medical emergencies and miscarriages, but not for victims of rape or incest. 

Deevers acknowledged that the bill probably wouldn’t discourage all abortion in Oklahoma, even if it becomes law, which is unlikely given the lack of support. He hopes that it would strike fear into abortion pill manufacturers, doctors and women who consider abortion.  

“Good law, just law, terrorizes evildoers,” Deevers said. “So in this sense, this just law would terrorize evildoers, it would cause them to fear — ‘I’d better not do that because if I do, the sword of justice is going to come down.’” 

Another bill by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, bans “abortion trafficking,” or helping a pregnant, unemancipated minor get an abortion without parental consent. Those convicted could receive a prison sentence of between two and five years. 

Dahm also authored a bill that would allow parents and grandparents to file wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of fetuses against manufacturers and distributors of mifepristone and misoprostol, and others who aim to facilitate abortion. The plaintiff would be entitled to at least $5 million in damages from each defendant. 

Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, a local abortion access organization, challenged two abortion bans the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down in May last year. The court found that an exception to allow abortions in medical emergencies was too narrow. Three proposed pieces of legislation by Dahm and Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, seek to narrow the existing medical exception by outlawing abortions to save the life of the mother based on psychological conditions. 

Tamya Cox-Touré, chairwoman for Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said the group believes bills that further limit abortion for medical reasons in Oklahoma are unconstitutional. The group could decide to challenge new laws that attempt to place new restrictions on abortion access, she said. 

Out-of-state abortion clinics and funds feel impacts of Oklahoma ban 

As more Oklahomans are pushed out-of-state to access abortion, clinics in neighboring states say they’ve had to expand their teams to accommodate an influx in patients. Abortion access organizations say they’re not changing strategies as legislative challenges mount, though some say their resources are being strained. 

Trust Women operates clinics that offer reproductive health services, gender-affirming care and treatment for opioid use in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas. The organization had to stop providing abortion at its Oklahoma City clinic after the state’s ban went into effect, but scaled up appointment availability and tripled its staff at the Wichita clinic, said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for the organization. 

Abortion provider Planned Parenthood Great Plains launched a patient navigator program in 2021 after its team noticed mounting legal obstacles to abortion. President Emily Wales said in recent years, more patients have needed help working through logistical challenges like childcare, taking time off from work and transportation costs to get to their appointments.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains has a team of five patient navigators who consider clients’ financial and logistical needs, as well as their time constraints, as they help them schedule an abortion. Wales said in the organization’s four-state coverage area, which includes Oklahoma, Kansas is the only state without a near-total abortion ban so many patients book appointments there. But some travel to other states like Illinois, if it fits their needs. 

The University of New Mexico Center for Reproductive Health Albuquerque, New Mexico, is shown. COURTESY

Abortion fund Midwest Access Coalition covers the cost of travel to or from Midwestern states and other logistical roadblocks that prevent patients from making it to appointments. The organization is incorporated in Illinois, where a shield law protects providers from out-of-state prosecution, said Alison Dreith, one of the group’s directors. The group’s strategy isn’t changing as a result of abortion bans, but legal resources like the Repro Legal Helpline could become more important for patients concerned about prosecution, she said. 

Demand for the abortion fund has spiked in the past year and a half, Dreith said. At times, the Midwest Access Coalition has had to temporarily close a patient hotline because of limited resources. The group has had to crowdsource funding to cover clients’ needs, and the average cost per person has skyrocketed from $350 to almost $2,000 as more patients have had to travel longer distances since the overturn of Roe v. Wade. 

Abortion funds will become more important as legislative challenges mount, but the current pace isn’t sustainable, Dreith said. 

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