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The Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to immediately block a citizen-enforced ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy (S.B. 1503). The Oklahoma state legislature passed the ban on April 28 with anti-abortion lawmakers forestalling any debate or questions. The Court issued its ruling shortly before Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill.  As a result, until the Court makes a further determination, most abortion in Oklahoma is banned, cutting off access for the thousands of people who seek abortion care in Oklahoma each year.

The ban (S.B. 1503) creates a bounty-hunting scheme similar to Texas’s S.B. 8, which encourages the general public to bring costly and harassing lawsuits against anyone they believe has provided or aided providing an abortion in violation of the ban. In a move reserved for constitutional crises and other urgent situations, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood – on behalf of abortion providers and a reproductive justice organization – filed the case directly with the Oklahoma Supreme Court just hours after it passed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will accept the case or rule that it should be decided in the first instance by the trial court.

Under S.B. 1503’s enforcement scheme, anyone can sue an abortion provider, a health center worker, or any person who helps someone access an abortion in Oklahoma after about six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant. Those who successfully sue would be rewarded with at least $10,000. A similar scheme in Texas has successfully banned most abortions in the state since it took effect in September 2021. Texans have been forced to flee the state for care, seek abortion outside the health care system, or carry pregnancies against their will.

If S.B. 1503 is allowed to remain in effect, access will be almost entirely cut off for the thousands of patients from across the region who receive abortions in Oklahoma each year. Since Texas’s S.B. 8 took effect, Oklahoma clinics have reported huge upticks in Texas patients, resulting in weeks-long wait times. Planned Parenthood released data in February showing that, in the first four months after S.B. 8 took effect, more than half of the patients at its Oklahoma health centers were from Texas, compared to less than 10% in the prior year. Overall, during that period, these Oklahoma health centers saw a nearly 2500% increase in Texas patients. 

“We are disappointed that the Oklahoma Supreme Court did not step in to block this radical and unconstitutional law before it took effect, and we hope that we will ultimately be able to block it,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The impact of this ban will reverberate far beyond Oklahoma. Many Texans have been fleeing to Oklahoma for abortion services and may now be out of options. This is just a preview of what’s to come if Roe is overturned. States are already working together to create enormous abortion deserts that many people will not be able to cross. We will keep fighting to get this law blocked—this is not over.”

“This moment is dark. Last night, our fears about the fate of abortion rights at the US Supreme Court were confirmed — and today, Oklahomans are faced with an immediate loss of abortion access,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “But while we are dismayed by today’s news, we will not stop fighting back. To the patients who turn to Oklahoma’s abortion providers: we will not stop fighting for you. Planned Parenthood will do everything in our power to ensure that all people can access care, no matter what it takes.”

“We are disappointed by today’s ruling,” said Tamya CoxTouré, co-chair, Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. “Just like in Texas, the impact of this ban will fall hardest on people struggling to make ends meet, people of color, and those living in rural areas. But we are not giving up.”  

“This cruel six-week ban allows Oklahomans to be stripped of their constitutional right to make private medical decisions,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Today’s decision is devastating for people seeking abortion throughout the region, and we will not stop fighting this ban. Everyone deserves comprehensive care in their communities, full stop — and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to block this law in court.”

The Oklahoma state legislature has passed several other abortion restrictions this year, including a modification to the state’s “trigger” ban and a bill (S.B. 612) that would ban abortion entirely in Oklahoma. S.B. 612 was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt on April 12 and would make providing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood filed a challenge in an existing case to S.B. 612 on the same day they challenged S.B. 1503 and have requested it also be blocked before it can take effect later this summer.

In the next two months, the Supreme Court will decide the fate of Roe v. Wade in a case challenging a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.  Yesterday, a draft Supreme Court decision that would strike down Roe v. Wade was published in POLITICO. The Court has yet to make an official ruling in the case.

The challenge to S.B. 1503 was filed in Oklahoma Supreme Court against the State of Oklahoma and all 77 state court clerks. The plaintiffs – Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, Dr. Alan Braid, Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma – are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Blake Patton.

www.reproductiverights.org