Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill criminalizing abortion services and when combined with stark restrictions in Texas could increase demand for family planning services at the Trust Women clinic in Wichita. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Gov. Kevin Stitt’s YouTube channel)
TOPEKA — Signing of a law that criminalizes most abortions in Oklahoma could merge with Texas’ abortion ban to compel women seeking family planning services to travel to Kansas clinics already reeling from a surge in out-of-state clients, clinic officials said Tuesday.
In seven months under Texas’ abortion ban, Trust Women clinics in Oklahoma City and Wichita have experienced a doubling of their monthly volume of patients. Trust Women facilities also routinely receive more than 100 phone calls an hour from patients seeking appointments.
“In our Wichita clinic, nearly half of our patients are now from Oklahoma,” Myfy Jensen-Fellows, advocacy director of Trust Women. “These are residents of Oklahoma who have been displaced from their own communities by the influx of patients from Texas.”
Trust Women was founded after physician George Tiller was assassinated in 2009 during a Wichita church service by a deranged an anti-abortion extremist. The organization’s clinics in Kansas and Oklahoma have become majority out-of-state providers of health care to women and families.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed legislation making it a felony to perform an abortion in that state, including procedures initiated with medication. Punishment could include a prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of $100,000.
The statute didn’t allow filing of criminal charges against women receiving an abortion in Oklahoma. The law included an exception in case of a medical emergency to save the life of the mother. The law takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns next month.
Stitt said he was working toward outlawing abortion in Oklahoma and making the Midwest state the leading pro-life state in the nation.
“I promised Oklahomans that I would sign every pro-life bill that hit my desk and that’s what we’re doing,” he said at a news conference. “As governor, I represent all four million Oklahomans and they overwhelmingly support protecting life in the state.”
Similar anti-abortion laws in Alabama and Arkansas have been blocked by courts in response to constitutional challenges. Oklahoma abortion providers, represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights, pledged to fight any ban signed into law in Oklahoma this session.
Emily Wales, interim president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, which advocates for the right of patients in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, said action by the governor with support of about 80% of state legislators created a “very dark day” in Oklahoma.
Texas law forced women to leave their home state to search for health care and Oklahoma residents may have to do the same, she said.
“It’s unconscionable,” Wales said. “But know this: The law signed today is not yet in effect and abortion remains legal in Oklahoma. We will fight back against these cruel bans in court because people shouldn’t have to cross state lines in secret to access care that should be available in their communities.”
In Texas, private citizens were granted authority in state law to collect a bounty of $10,000 with a successful lawsuit against an abortion provider or anyone who helped a patient obtain an abortion.
Jensen-Fellows said nearly half the people leaving Texas for an abortion traveled to Oklahoma. If Oklahoma were removed as an option, Jensen-Fellows said a significant majority of women may not have resources to go to a state providing abortions and with timely appointments available.
“If Oklahoma’s anti-abortion legislation is allowed to stand, the effects on the region, and Kansas in particular, will be devastating,” Jensen-Fellows said. “The clinic system across Kansas is already under great strain due to SB 8. It’s important to keep in mind that there are more clinics in Dallas or Houston than there are in the entire state of Kansas or Oklahoma.”
In August, the Kansas primary ballot includes a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would counter a Kansas Supreme Court decision identifying a constitutional right to abortion in the Bill of Rights of the state constitution.
“If there was ever a time for Kansans to rise and get motivated to protect life — both women and preborn babies — the time is now,” said Mary Wilkinson, president of Kansans for Life.
The U.S. Supreme Court is working through legal challenges to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
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