When a Texas law prohibiting abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy went into effect in September, Oklahoma became the most popular out-of-state abortion destination for Texans.
After the Oklahoma Legislature passed a near-total abortion ban, one of the most restrictive in the country, that option may soon be gone. To become law, the bill must be signed by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has stated that he will sign any abortion restrictions.
What’s going on in Texas and Oklahoma is the latest example of how difficult it will be for many Americans to get an abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned and states are given the power to decide whether and when abortion access is provided, according to health care experts.
Consider how a ban in Oklahoma would have repercussions across the region. Patients from Oklahoma and Texas would have to travel longer distances to get abortions, and nearby states that provide those services, such as New Mexico and Colorado, would be burdened with more cases. Since Texas’ ban took effect, some Texas women have traveled as far as Maryland and New York, according to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Appointment wait times in Oklahoma clinics have increased from three days to at least two weeks since the Texas ban went into effect, according to Nash, and would increase in states where abortion is still legal. “Patients (who) are often low income, disproportionately Black and brown… populations that have been systematically oppressed and had the least access to health care and financial resources,” Nash said, adding that such barriers would make it even more difficult for them.
This scenario is already playing out in some states.
Women from Texas and other states with restrictive abortion laws now make up the majority of patients at Trust Women in Oklahoma City, one of four clinics providing abortions in Oklahoma, according to co-executive director Rebecca Tong, who called the Oklahoma legislation “unconstitutional.”
In a press statement, the bill’s author, Republican state Sen. Nathan Dahm, called it the “strongest pro-life legislation in the country right now.” The bill, according to Emily Wales, interim president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, is an attempt by the legislature to “gain complete control over Oklahomans’ bodies and lives.”
A coalition of reproductive rights organizations, including the ACLU of Oklahoma and two Planned Parenthood affiliates, rallied against a slew of anti-abortion bills being considered by the Oklahoma Legislature on Tuesday.
In a statement, the groups said the ban “would be devastating for both Oklahomans and Texans who continue to seek care in Oklahoma… Oklahomans could face a future where they would have no place left in their state to seek this basic health care.”
Texas prohibits abortions after cardiac activity in the embryo is detected, which usually occurs around six weeks into a pregnancy, and allows private individuals to sue abortion providers or those who assist someone in getting an abortion in violation of the law. According to data released by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the state saw a 60 percent drop in abortion patients after the law went into effect. Following Texas’s legislation, a dozen states, including Oklahoma, introduced similar bills in an attempt to outlaw abortion.
From September to December, abortion patients from a Texas zip code accounted for more than half of all abortion patients seen at Planned Parenthood health centers in Oklahoma, and more than five times the number of Texas patients seen during the same period in 2020.
Other states are preserving access to abortion as the bans spread. Abortion rights are protected in more than a quarter of states, including California and New York. Colorado, one of the top three states for abortion patients from Texas, passed legislation this week declaring reproductive health care, including abortion, to be a “fundamental right.”
However, most states in the vicinity of Texas, such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas, are politically hostile to abortion rights, according to Nash. Kansas residents will vote this summer on a measure saying the state constitution does not include a right to abortion, while Missouri’s Legislature is holding hearings on its own abortion bans, she said.