Oklahoma… where the legislature comes attacking women

Anti-choice forces are hard at work in Oklahoma, and their recent successes are an omen of things to come, especially with the ways things are looking in Virginia.

The Oklahoma legislature passed two very harmful laws, both of which were vetoed by the Governor. The legislature then overturned the veto, despite the Governor’s very valid concerns.

One of the measures forces women seeking an abortion to not only have an ultrasound–a medically unnecessary procedure that increases the cost while attempting to shame women–but also requires that the monitor be placed so a woman must see it as the doctor or technician describes the heart, limbs, and organs of the fetus. Several states force ultrasounds, but Oklahoma is the first to force women to look at it.

Governor Brad Henry’s problem with this bill was that it didn’t include an exemption for women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest and because it allows an unconstitutional intrusion to women’s privacy. He believes that “State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma. To do so amounts to an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”

This is certainly a concern, but an exemption is not the only issue. Forced ultrasounds are a problem for many more reasons. For one, if a woman is in the earliest stages of a pregnancy (when the majority of abortions are performed), the only way to do an ultrasound is vaginally–they insert a long probe into the vagina. As a medically unnecessary procedure, this is especially disturbing as it is a forced intrusion into a woman’s body, and don’t forget that there is no exception to this for rape survivors.

Senator Rice, who voted against the bill, attempted to explain this to his colleges by saying, “You have to invasively put an instrument inside the woman. This could be your 15-year-old daughter who was raped,” but unfortunately, they would not be swayed, claiming that the procedure is necessary to help ‘educate’ women.

Futhermore, all ultrasounds cost money. Measures such as this add to the costs of an already expensive medical procedure that is rarely covered by insurance.

The other factor that seems to motivate forced-ultrasounds is a deep disrespect for women and a belief that women do not think before making decisions. These legislators are insinuating that a woman who chooses abortion isn’t taking that choice seriously and that she hasn’t thought about all that it entails.

In our experience, there is noting father from the truth.

Women must be trusted to make medical decisions with their doctors. It is not the legislature’s job second-guess or force unnecessary procedures in hopes of promoting ideological agendas!

The second measure that the Oklahoma legislature passed is equally disturbing. It prevents women from suing their doctors for purposefully withholding information about their fetus being disabled. The bill’s sponsors claim that it protects doctors from women who have “regrets” after giving birth to disabled children and who wish they had been counseled to abort, but it is very clearly a law that tells doctor’s that they are allowed to lie to their patients.

“It is unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform pregnant women in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on a patient,” said the Oklahoma governor. We couldn’t agree more.

That any state thinks they can legalize doctors intentionally lying to or misleading a patient about their health is a crime against Oklahomans and against the medical profession. If patients cannot trust their doctors, they have no motivation to seek care or follow advice given to them by their doctors. Furthermore, not preparing the parents and hospital staff of a disability in advance can put the child’s life at risk. This becomes especially risky in rural areas; without specialized medical staff and equipment, the child who needs immediate, specialized care is put in life-threatening danger.

Oklahoma has already passed laws forcing clinics to post signs stating that a woman cannot be forced to have an abortion and a measure making it illegal to have an abortion based on the sex of the fetus.

Up next on the legislative agenda: forcing women to fill out a 38-question long survey about their reasons for having an abortion, her race, age, education, marital status, method of payment, and previous pregnancies, statistics from which will be posted on the internet–once again, attempting to shame women exercising their rights to choose abortion and burdening clinics in an attempt to prevent them from conducting business–and a law restricting insurance coverage for abortion.

The ultrasound bill is already being challenged in court as unconstitutional by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The lawsuit alleges that the law violates freedom of speech for the doctor, as well as the right to equal protection and right to privacy for the woman. As a CRR spokesperson said, “These laws threaten women’s health by reducing access to safe abortion care. They really humiliate women who are seeking abortion and fail to accord them the dignity that they ought be accorded by law.”

By the time this law is found unconstitutional and struck down, we predict Oklahoma will have already added exponentially to the hurdles women face in obtaining abortions. One of Oklahoma’s three clinics has already reported that women are leaving the room in tears after the forced-ultrasound, though not one of them has changed their mind. As the chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma said, “They just throw down one roadblock after another in front of women and hope maybe they will give up.” We know women won’t give up and we’re prepared to fight here in Virginia to protect these rights to medical care and choice.

The following were used as resources and/or are interesting for further reading:

Strict Abortion Measures enacted in Oklahoma [NYTimes]

Oklahoma Lawmakers At It Again [Daily Kos]

Oklahoma Governor Vetoes 2 Abortion Bills [Boston Herald]

Okla. Mandates Invasive Medical Procedures [Washington Monthly]

Oklahoma Abortion Law: no Exceptions, Even Rape [ABC]

Does Oklahoma’s Abortion Law Legalize Rape? [feministing]

Oklahoma Passes Country’s Most restrictive Anti-Abortion Laws [AlterNet]

State of Choice in Oklahoma, in Virginia

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