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Abortion in the U.S.

Oklahoma's restrictive abortion laws

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Restrictive laws:

Two laws were passed in 2009 that specify requirements that must be met before a woman can obtain an abortion.

bulletAccording to some pro-choice commentators, the apparent motivation was to lower the number of abortions performed by discouraging women from seeking one.
bulletAccording to some pro-life commentators, the motivation was to collect information that would help people understand why women seek abortions so that women can be provided with as much knowledge as possible before she makes such a decision.

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Personal survey:

One law requires that a woman fill out a long survey, in which she must reveal many personal details about her life: her race, education, reason for obtaining an abortion, whether she is having relationship problems, whether she feels a child would excessively disrupt their life, or whether she simply cannot afford a child. Another section of the same law requires women's clinics to provide detailed information about any complications that result from the abortion. The forms do not ask for the woman's name or other personally identifiable information.

Former state Rep. Wanda Jo Stapleton (D) said: "It is particularly draconian, abusive, [and] intimidating. Those are totally intimidating, totally personal questions, and it's nobody's business."

According to Rep. Dan Sullivan (R-Tulsa), who helped write the questionnaire, the lawmakers are simply seeking as much information as possible in order to find ways of reducing the number of abortions in the state. He said: "These are tragic situations for people, and we're not trying to compound anyone's emotional state."

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Ultrasound test:

The other law, Senate Bill 1878, was initially vetoed by the governor. However, the legislature overruled the veto. It would force women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound examination and require the physician or a "certified technician working in conjunction" with that doctor do the ultrasound. They are required to "provide a simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound is depicting," and "display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them."

The law requires the person administering the ultrasound to describe the heartbeat and the presence of internal organs, fingers, and toes. The patient is required to fill out a form stating that the the doctor or technician has completed all of these actions. The law allows her to not look at the monitor screen. The law does not forbid her from placing her hands over her ears so that she cannot hear the running commentary.

In the first trimester, when almost all abortions are performed, the physician would be required to use a vaginal transducer in order to provide the clearest possible image when the embryo is tiny. Needless to say, this is an invasive test. The law provides no exception for women who have been raped or are the victims of incest.

One visitor to the Slate website posted a comment about the use of a vaginal transducer. "Cruella" wrote:
"There is a word I know that describes the insertion of an object into a woman's vagina without her consent. That word is RAPE. This law effectively leaves women seeking an abortion subject first to rape by the state. That is disgusting."
In addition to Oklahoma, three other states -- Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi -- require that an ultrasound be given, even if the woman does not want it. Ten other states only require women to be offered an optional ultrasound.

The apparent motivation for this law is the belief by many pro-life groups that if a woman sees the outline of an embryo or early stage fetus, she might decide to not have an abortion. This could backfire. If a woman sees a first trimester embryo or fetus she might realize that it looks just like a blob of tissue or a worm and does not resemble a baby.

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Other provisions in the laws:

About 40% of the women who seek abortions choose to have a medical abortion. Unfortunately, the legislation requires that the drugs must be administered and the follow-up-care must be provided in a way that is different from normal medical practice. Doctors would be required to practice medicine in a way that makes no sense.

According to Emily Bazelton of Slate:
"The law would also prevent women from recovering damages from any obstetrician-gynecologist whose 'act or omission contributed to the mother's not having obtained an abortion' -- in other words, women cannot bring suit against a doctor who failed to tell her about a detected birth defect."

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The two laws were to take effect on 2009-NOV-01. However, the Center for Reproductive Rights and other groups launched lawsuits to obtain injunctions in order to suspend the laws. They argued their case on legal grounds. It appears that these two laws had been added to larger bills. This violated a clause in the state constitution that requires bills to deal with a single topic. A district-court judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing the questionnaire law from taking effect.

Another district-court judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevents the ultrasound law from taking effect. The state has appealed this decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Meanwhile, legislators plan to resubmit them as separate bills during the next legislative session.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. SeanMurphy, "Strict Okla. abortion laws challenged," Associated Press, 2009-OCT-25, at: http://www.azcentral.com/
  2. Emily Bazelton, "Required viewing: Oklahoma's gallingly paternalistic ultrasound law," Slate, 2009-OCT-22, at: http://www.slate.com/
  3. Data Stone, "New Oklahoma Law: Women Seeking Abortions Must Have Ultrasounds Against Their Will," AlterNet, 2008-APR-26, at: http://www.alternet.org

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 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Legal aspects > here

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2009-OCT-31
Latest update: 2009-OCT-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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