Law
7:28 pm
Fri December 18, 2009

Oklahoma Abortion Law 'Invasive,' Critics Say

In Oklahoma, a new law requires any woman seeking an abortion to first answer dozens of personal questions, including why she wants the procedure. That information, names omitted, would eventually be posted on a state Web site.

Those who support the measure say it will help them better understand why women are seeking abortions. Abortion rights advocates call the law intimidating and invasive, and this week, they are challenging it in court. Legal experts say the law is another test of how far states can go to regulate abortion.

A Necessary Law, Or Intolerable?

The survey in Oklahoma's new abortion law includes some of the following questions: Would having a baby dramatically change a woman's life, or interfere with her job or education? Is she unemployed, or unsure of a relationship with the father?

"This is not going in and getting a wart removed. This is a procedure that ends a human life," says Oklahoma state Rep. Dan Sullivan. He says the law is valid and necessary.

"And because it's a special procedure, we believe that it's appropriate to be able to find out why these are going on and if there is something that we can do to change that," Sullivan says.

But abortion rights activists call the law — and the survey — intolerable.

Caitlyn Wright, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, organized a recent rally at the state capitol opposing the new law.

"The only question that's not asked of these women is their name," Wright says. "These are incredibly invasive questions. Is it because she can't afford child care? Is she unmarried? Is she having a rough patch with [the] father? The real purpose of the bill is to shame women from having this procedure — and I think it's to scare them."

Clinics Call It An Invasion Of Privacy

Forty-six states have laws that require clinics and hospitals to submit some kind of reports about the abortions they perform. But clinics in Oklahoma say this law is an invasion of privacy that goes far beyond abortion reporting requirements in any other state.

Linda Meek, executive administrator of Reproductive Services in Tulsa, Okla., says it's discouraging and intrusive to patients.

"If they want to reduce the number of abortions, then they need to concentrate on educating women about preventing unwanted pregnancies, educating them about emergency contraception, birth control — and making birth control more accessible," Meek says.

Abortion rights groups also fear that women could be identified based on the information they provide, especially women who live in Oklahoma's small rural communities.

Reports Could Lead To Changes In Public Policy

But supporters say woman cannot be identified, because the law doesn't require doctors to report the county where they live, only where the abortion takes place. Right now, there are just three counties in Oklahoma where abortions are performed.

Oklahoma state Sen. Todd Lamb is running for lieutenant governor, and he's the principal author of the law. He has been campaigning, in part, on his anti-abortion track record. Lamb recently spoke to a meeting of Young Republicans at the University of Oklahoma, where the abortion law came up.

"How can we counsel, how can we treat, how can we offer counseling to mothers to be that are choosing abortion, if we don't have hard-core facts?" Lamb asks.

Oklahoma is conservative both socially and politically. This is the second year in a row that the Legislature has passed abortion laws considered some of the most restrictive in the country. A law that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the fetus before a woman could have an abortion was struck down this year on procedural grounds. But that decision is being appealed.

Tony Lauinger with Oklahomans for Life says the new law and survey represent a common-sense approach to abortion.

"It is such a minimal step that for people to oppose a bill as helpful as this legislation is just — it's kind of incredible," Lauinger says.

'A Chilling Effect' On Women Considering Abortions

But the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging the law, says there is no valid public health reason for the state to request this kind of detailed information.

Joseph Thai, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, says the U.S. Supreme Court already struck down a Pennsylvania reporting law that was not as stringent as Oklahoma's.

"I think the number and kind of questions that are posed — and would be publicly posted — would present a substantial chilling effect on women who are considering abortions, as well as on doctors performing abortions," Thai says. "But I don't think that's really a concern of the state Legislature. I think they are willing to gamble."

If this new law is struck down, Oklahoma legislators say they'll try again next year.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Oklahoma, a new law requires any woman seeking an abortion to first answer more than 30 personal questions. The information, with names omitted, would eventually be posted on a state Web site. Backers of the measure say it will help to understand why women get abortions. Advocates of abortion rights call it invasive and tomorrow they are challenging it in court. The law is on hold for now.

NPR's Kathy Lohr has the story.

KATHY LOHR: The survey in Oklahoma's new abortion law includes some of the following questions: Would having a baby dramatically change a woman's life, interfere with her job or education? Is she unemployed, or unsure of a relationship with the father? State Representative Dan Sullivan says the law is needed to reduce the number of abortions.

Representative DAN SULLIVAN (Republican, Oklahoma): This is not going in and having a wart removed. This is a procedure that ends a human life. And because it's a special procedure, we believe that it's appropriate to be able to find out, you know, why these are going on and if there is something that we can do to change that.

LOHR: But abortion rights activists call the law, and the survey, intolerable.

Ms. CAITLYN WRIGHT (Senior, University of Oklahoma): Fellow pro-women activists.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. WRIGHT: We are here because we have to be here, because we have to demand a public discussion about laws that infringe on our rights�

LOHR: Caitlyn Wright is a senior at the University of Oklahoma, who organized a recent rally at the state capitol, opposing the new law.

Ms. WRIGHT: You know, the only question that's not asked of these women is their name. These are incredibly invasive questions: Is it because she can't afford child care? Is she unmarried? Is she having a rough patch with the father? The real purpose of the bill is to shame women from having this procedure. And I think it's to scare them.

LOHR: Forty-six states have laws that require clinics and hospitals to submit some kind of reports about the abortions they perform. But clinics in Oklahoma say this law is an invasion of privacy, that it goes far beyond abortion-reporting requirements in any other state.

Ms. LINDA MEEK (Executive Administrator of Reproductive Services, Tulsa): It's very discouraging and intrusive to patients.

LOHR: Linda Meek is executive administrator of Reproductive Services in Tulsa.

Ms. MEEK: If they want to reduce the number of abortions, then they need to concentrate on educating women about preventing unwanted pregnancies, educating them about emergency contraception, birth control and making birth control more accessible.

LOHR: Pro-choice groups also fear women could be identified based on the information they provide, especially women who live in Oklahoma's rural communities. But supporters say women cannot be identified because the law doesn't require doctors to report the county where they live, only where the abortion takes place. Right now, there are just three counties in Oklahoma where abortions are performed.

State Senator TODD LAMB (Republican, Oklahoma): We're the first ones to come in tonight.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

State Sen. LAMB: Any of the other candidates come by?

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

LOHR: Senator Todd Lamb, the principal author of the law, is out campaigning, in part on his pro-life track record. Lamb is running for lieutenant governor. He recently spoke to a meeting of young Republicans at the University of Oklahoma, and the abortion law came up.

State Sen. LAMB: How can we counsel, how can we treat, how can we offer counseling to mothers to be that are choosing abortion, if we don't have hard-core facts?

LOHR: Oklahoma is conservative: socially and politically. This is the second year in a row that the legislature has passed abortion laws considered some of the most restrictive in the country. A law that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the fetus before a woman could have an abortion was struck down this year on procedural grounds. But that decision is being appealed. Tony Lauinger, with Oklahomans for Life, says the new law and survey represent a common-sense approach to abortion.

Mr. TONY LAUINGER (Vice President, National Right to Life): It is such a minimal step that for people to oppose a bill as helpful as this legislation is just � it's kind of incredible.

LOHR: The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging the law, says there is no valid public health reason for the state to gather this kind of detailed information. And legal experts say the law represents another test of how far states can go to regulate abortion. Professor at the University of Oklahoma Joseph Thai says the U.S. Supreme Court already struck down a Pennsylvania reporting law that was not as stringent as Oklahoma's.

Professor JOSEPH THAI (University of Oklahoma): I think the number and kind of questions that are posed and that would be publicly posted would present a substantial chilling effect on women who are considering abortions as well as on doctors performing abortions. But I don't think that's really a concern of the state legislature. I think they are willing to gamble.

LOHR: If this new law is struck down, Oklahoma legislators say they'll try again next year.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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