An Oklahoma judge on Monday temporarily blocked two new anti-abortion laws from taking effect next month, including a measure similar to a Texas abortion ban that effectively bans the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy.
District Judge Cindy Truong said she would allow three other anti-abortion laws to take effect Nov. 1, which one abortion rights advocate said would be "catastrophic" to the ability of women to access abortion services in the state.
Those three would create new restrictions on medication-induced abortions and require all doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology.
"The OB-GYN requirement will immediately disqualify more than half of the doctors providing abortions in the state," said Rabia Muqaddam, a staff attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the five new Oklahoma laws. "Every day that law remains in effect, we're talking about really catastrophic fallout."
The medication-induced abortion restrictions include requirements previously struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Those include an admitting privileges requirement that has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and an ultrasound requirement that is more restrictive than an ultrasound law the state Supreme Court already struck down.
Abortion clinics in Oklahoma already are being overwhelmed by patients from Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a law to take effect on Sept. 1 that made it illegal to perform abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, which is usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.
About 11 women from Texas received abortion services at the Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City in August. That number increased to 110 last month, said Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of Trust Women. Similar increases are being reported at abortion clinics in Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana and New Mexico.
State Sen. Julie Daniels, a Bartlesville Republican who sponsored four of the five anti-abortion bills that were challenged in Oklahoma, said the laws are designed to make abortions safer, though she acknowledged her ultimate goal is to save the lives of fetuses.
"My goal has always been to save the life of the unborn child and return these decisions to the states where they rightfully belong," Daniels said.
Women have been increasingly seeking out-of-state abortions as Republican legislatures and governors pass ever-more restrictive abortion laws, particularly in the South. At least 276,000 women terminated their pregnancies outside of their home states between 2012 and 2017, according to a 2019 Associated Press analysis of state and federal data.
The trend appears to have accelerated over the past year. Abortion clinics in neighboring states began seeing an increase in calls from Texas after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott banned abortions in March 2020 for nearly a month under a COVID-19 executive order.
Dr. Alan Braid, the owner of Tulsa Women's Reproductive Clinic, said the consequences of the judge's ruling on Monday will have reverberations throughout the entire South.
"Oklahoma clinics were already inundated with patients from both Texas and Oklahoma, and if these laws take effect, many Oklahoma abortion providers won't be able to provide care," Braid said in a statement. "Where will all these patients go? Politicians are trying to trap them, and they are succeeding. But we will not stop fighting these restrictions."
Braid, who is from San Antonio, became the first doctor to be sued under the new Texas law after he revealed that he performed an abortion in defiance of the statute.
Muqaddam said once she and attorneys for the Oklahoma attorney general's office reach an agreement on a formal order for the judge to sign, the center plans to appeal the judge's ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Neither Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's office nor the state attorney general's office, which defended the new laws, immediately responded to messages seeking comment on the ruling.