Oklahoma lawmakers enacted several, sometimes contradictory, abortion bans last year in anticipation of the overturn of Roe V. Wade. A flurry of court challenges and legislation seeking to clarify the laws have since contributed to confusion over when abortion is legal and even basic facts about pregnancy and contraceptives. We used public records, information from government officials and medical experts and other sources to fact-check some claims surrounding the abortion debate in Oklahoma.
Claim: A bill at the Oklahoma Legislature this past session would have enshrined protections in state law for contraceptives that induce abortion.
Source: The anti-abortion group Free the States has made this claim on its website and on YouTube about Senate Bill 368. Some versions of the bill, which eventually failed, would have clarified that many forms of contraceptives are not abortion and are still legal in Oklahoma. Free the States claimed in a post on its website dated April 10 that “self-administered hormonal contraceptives that are approved by the FDA”…. “often induce abortions.”
Fact check: Mostly false
SB 368 would have clarified that birth control, morning-after pills and long-acting reversible contraceptives, like IUDs, are still legal under state law.
Free the States founder T. Russell Hunter said in an email to The Frontier that his organization believes that pregnancy begins when sperm meets egg and that some forms of contraceptives are abortion because they work after fertilization. But federal regulation and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists define the start of pregnancy as when a fertilized egg later implants into the lining of a woman’s uterus.
Birth control pills and implants work by preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg each month and IUDs work by preventing an egg from being fertilized, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The FDA released guidance in December stating that the morning-after pill Plan B prevents pregnancy by stopping or delaying the release of an egg. It doesn’t affect implantation and won’t affect an existing pregnancy, so the agency says it’s not abortion.
Claim: Abortion is still legal in Oklahoma because current laws don’t criminalize women for seeking self-induced medication abortions.
Source: Activists from the local anti-abortion groups Abolitionists Rising and Oklahomans United For Life have repeatedly made this claim on social media.
“The abortion pill is the new state-sanctioned coat hanger,” activist John Michener said in a video posted on YouTube on March 1.
Fact check: Mixed
State officials have said Oklahoma statutes don’t criminalize women who seek abortions, but conflicting laws have caused some confusion.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down two state abortion bans in May, but there’s still a statute on the books dating from 1910 that outlaws the procedure. That statute criminalizes abortion providers, making it a felony for anyone to help a woman terminate a pregnancy except to save the life of the mother. Oklahoma enacted another law in 2022 that strengthened criminal penalties for medical providers. Women who seek abortions are exempt from criminal prosecution under that law.
But another state law from 1978 prohibits self-induced abortions. A group of state lawmakers in October asked the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on whether women who self-induce abortions could be prosecuted for homicide under this law. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is expected to issue an opinion soon.
Claim: The federal government is cutting health care funding for Oklahoma because the state will not promote an abortion hotline.
Source: U.S. Sen. James Lankford said “…It is now past time for the Biden Administration to explain why they are cutting healthcare funding for women in my state because Oklahoma will not promote an abortion hotline,” in a tweet on June 12.
Fact check: Mostly true
The federal government suspended a $4.5-million grant to the Oklahoma State Department of Health for family planning services in late May.
Federal rules require grant recipients to provide information about abortion, along with counseling on prenatal and infant care and adoption. But Oklahoma law prohibits clinics from advising women on abortion, according to the state Health Department.
Patients can opt out of receiving abortion information, which may include an abortion provider’s phone number or address, according to a federal memo.
The Health Department said in a statement that it has worked for months with the federal government to “find an acceptable resolution that does not force OSDH to directly or indirectly violate state law.”
The grant suspension is currently under a 30-day review, and state funding is being used to replace federal dollars, so no services have been discontinued.
Claim: Oklahoma’s near-total ban on abortion is causing medical professionals to leave the state.
Source: “Oklahoma is one of 14 states w total abortion bans and one of 12 states w no exceptions for rape or incest,” Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, said on Twitter June 15. “As a result, we are losing medical professionals in droves, and everyone suffers when we don’t have adequate resources for healthcare.”
Fact check: Mixed
It’s too soon to tell how Oklahoma’s abortion laws will affect the number of health care providers in the state, and data is limited. But states with near-total abortion bans, including Oklahoma, saw a 10.5% drop in applicants for obstetrics and gynecology residency positions between 2022 and 2023, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Nationally, OB-GYN residency applicants decreased by about 5% overall this year. A recent survey of 494 third- and fourth-year medical students applying for OB-GYN residencies and other specialties across 32 states found that 57.9% of students were unlikely or very unlikely to apply to programs in states with abortion restrictions.
True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
Mostly true: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
Mostly false: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
False: A claim that has no basis in fact