A new flood of phone calls from women seeking abortion care hit Oklahoma’s four abortion clinics days after a restrictive new Texas law took effect in September.
The Oklahoma City-based Trust Women clinic said its call volume for the first two weeks of September has doubled. About two-thirds of those calls were from Texas, said Rebecca Tong, Trust Women’s acting co-executive director. The clinic is now scheduling appointments two to three weeks out, when it used to be able to book patients within a week.
The clinic provides abortion care two days per week but is now working to expand its hours, Tong said. Trust Women also operates a clinic in Wichita. Some Oklahoma women have been forced to travel to Kansas for abortions as appointments at Oklahoma clinics fill up.
“We’re doing whatever is necessary to add additional shifts,” Tong said in a Sept. 15 interview. “We’re talking about needing to recruit basically a whole ‘nother set of full time staff in order to support the clinic days because there’s no short end in sight for this.”
Oklahoma is also set to further restrict access to abortion this year, with a new slate of laws set to take effect in November. Some Republican lawmakers said they believe the momentum from the Texas law could help Oklahoma implement further abortion restrictions. One state lawmaker has already said he plans to push legislation similar to the Texas law next year. Gov. Kevin Stitt also told The Frontier that he would sign such a bill.
Stitt, who signed five anti-abortion bills this year, has promised to approve every piece of “pro-life” legislation that reaches his desk.
“Do I think there’s going to be left wing out-of-state groups that come in and try to challenge these just like they’re challenging the Texas law? Of course,” Stitt said in an interview with The Frontier.
“But we have to make a stand, and we’re gonna do what’s right, regardless of what the courts, or some politically-motivated, left-wing agenda tries to come into our state and tell us what we should do here. So I’m going to sign them. I’m happy to sign them.”
The Texas law prohibits abortion after a medical professional can detect a “heartbeat” through an ultrasound, typically around six weeks, which is before many women know they’re pregnant. However, medical experts have called the term “heartbeat” misleading, as an embryo doesn’t have a developed heart at six weeks.
In Oklahoma, a nearly identical law is set to take effect Nov. 1, but the chief difference from the Texas law is who is tasked with enforcing it. While the Texas law relies on private citizens filing lawsuits in civil court, the Oklahoma law requires state officials to enforce the new restrictions.
Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, said he plans to craft a Texas-style bill, allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers and others, by amending language in an existing “heartbeat” bill that he will carry over from the last legislative session. Dahm hopes the bill will sail quickly through the legislative process next session, as it already passed the state Senate, he said in a Facebook post. Dahm’s office did not return a call from The Frontier seeking comment last week.
Stitt said he would approve of such a law.
“If the Legislature thinks they need to put some civil liability similar to Texas in there, then I’ll absolutely sign it,” he told The Frontier.
A day after the Texas law took effect, a group of reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Conner and other state officials seeking to prevent five anti-abortion laws from taking effect in Oklahoma, including the “heartbeat” bill. None of the new Oklahoma abortion restrictions include exemptions for rape or incest.
Tamya Cox-Touré is the co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, one of the organizations that brought the lawsuit. She said she’s concerned how the law in Texas will affect Oklahoma’s legal battle, as well as Mississippi’s pending challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Mississippi is asking the court to uphold a state law banning most abortions after 15 weeks.
Under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion, states may not ban abortion before fetal viability, around 23 weeks gestation. The Texas and Mississippi laws are unconstitutional under that precedent.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Mississippi case Dec. 1. Cox-Touré is watching to see whether the judge in the Oklahoma case will hold off on a ruling until the Supreme Court rules on the Mississippi case.
“That’s kind of nerve racking — the fact that one case will have the domino effect of what happens in a region,” Cox-Touré said. But she still believes Supreme Court justices will strike down the Mississippi law.
Stitt told The Frontier he has considered the concerns of providers and reproductive rights advocates about the loss of abortion access and the lack of exemptions for rape or incest, but he believes each pregnancy is “a life.”
“And I’m going to err on that side. And there’s all kinds of what ifs that people try to play with you,” he said of the lack of exemptions. “At the end of the day, if you have a heartbeat, we’re resolute that we should not take a life.”