Oklahoma Women Win One in War on Reproductive Rights
“When it comes to fighting for reproductive rights, there’s often no sweeter word than ‘unconstitutional,’” wrote spokesperson Nancy Northup in a press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights today, announcing that an Oklahoma district court had struck down that state’s mandatory pre-abortion ultrasound law. The CRR had challenged the law as unconstitutional, an invasion of privacy and a violation of a woman’s right to make fundamental choices about her own health care.
The law, similar to the one in Texas that is also being challenged by the CRR, would force women seeking abortions to undergo an invasive, transvaginal ultrasound procedure prior to her abortion. The court ruled that the law is an “unconstitutional special law” that treats abortion differently from other medical procedures “without justification.” Abortion is legal and has been since 1974. The Oklahoma law would have forced not only the invasive ultrasound to be performed on a legal medical procedure, but it required that the embryonic image be placed in front of the woman and that she be forced to hear it described in detail by her doctor even if the woman said “no.”
“Today’s decision means that Oklahoma women will not be subjected to this kind of treatment-and it adds to the growing momentum of a nationwide backlash against the overreaching of lawmakers hostile to women, their doctors, and their rights,” Northup wrote.
“We still have a long road ahead of us in the battle to reclaim our reproductive rights,” she added, “but today we celebrate and stand proudly with the women of Oklahoma.”
Today’s ruling means that there is hope the Texas law and those in other states will not survive court challenges, although in Texas the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned a San Antonio district judge’s injunction against the law, ordering it to be implemented.
In Texas, Northup said, the law’s implementation illustrates the harm that results when these laws go into effect. “Women feel humiliated, even bullied by their own doctors-and access to essential reproductive health care services is severely threatened.” Local abortion providers told Fort Worth Weekly in earlier interviews that the law, which has been in effect here since October, has resulted in “not one” woman making a decision to forego the abortion.
And in another battle here in the war on women’s reproductive rights, 56 Texas clergymen last week sent an open letter to Governor Rick Perry, asking that he restore the federal funding to the Medicaid Women’s Health Program that was cut last month when Perry enforced a bill passed by the Republican majority in the statehouse that denied funding to Planned Parenthood because the non-profit also provides abortion services – even though not a penny of federal money goes to such services.
The clergy, from various denominations, called on Perry to “make the health and welfare of Texas’ most vulnerable women a priority over politics.” They pointed out that cutting the program means “over 130,000 low-income, uninsured women are at-risk of losing access to health care, including free breast and cervical cancer screenings, HIV tests, health exams, and birth control and well-woman checks.
“These are women that many of us counsel in our pastoral role, and that all of us are called upon to protect,” the letter explains.
It also notes that Texas currently leads the nation in the number of uninsured, citing the fact that one in four Texas women have no insurance. “Representatives of various medical associations have stated there is no other safety net for these women and that the current infrastructure does not have the capacity for additional patients,” the clergy letter stated.
The letter reminds the Governor that his action “is likely to only increase the number of abortions in Texas by denying contraception to poor women.”
In fact, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a Texas think tank, reported a few weeks ago that for low-income women here, “over 40 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. If the goal is to reduce abortions,” the center concluded, “reducing unintended pregnancies is the key, which requires family planning services.”
Urging the Governor, who wears his fundamentalist Christian beliefs on his sleeve, to restore the program, the clergy letter concludes, “We are all, clergy and layperson alike, called to show compassion for the least among us.”