A surgical technician and recovery room staff member accompanies a patient from Texas to the recovery room following her abortion at Trust Women Clinic in Oklahoma City, USA, December 6, 2021.
Evelyn Hockstein Reuters
The Tulsa Women’s Clinic, one of four abortion providers in Oklahoma, may have to shut down completely as soon as this summer if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade as expected later this year.
A draft opinion leaked by the High Court last week showed that the Conservative majority is ready to overturn the historic ruling of 1973 which legalized abortion nationwide. If the court followed the draft opinion, it would cause a schism between the states where abortion remains legal and those where it is prohibited, leaving millions of women with little or no access to abortion.
Oklahoma is one of 26 states that plan to ban all abortions if Roe is overthrown, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that advocates abortion rights.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed the law in April that makes performing an abortion a crime punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a $ 100,000 fine. The law provides an exception for medical emergencies where the mother’s life is in danger, but not for cases of rape or incest. The abortion ban goes into effect in August after the current Supreme Court mandate expired and allegedly ruled on Roe.
“It would mean no abortion, so no clinic,” said Andrea Gallegos, executive director of the Tulsa Women’s Clinic. “We would not be able to continue offering the service we provide,” said Gallegos.
Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said overthrowing Roe would further strengthen inequality in the US health care system, primarily punishing low-income women, including minority communities who have already struggled to access health care. quality. Those with financial means living in states where abortion is subject to a total ban will be able to travel to other states where the procedure remains legal, Benjamin said.
“Wealthy women won’t have this as a significant barrier. Low-income women will,” she said.
Some women in need of an abortion are already forced to cross state borders even with Roe in place. When Texas overtook a law last year banning most abortions, patients began fleeing to clinics in nearby Oklahoma for treatment. The Tulsa Women’s Clinic saw its patients nearly triple when its sister facility in San Antonio, Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, began referring patients there, according to Gallegos.
“We became a safe haven for Texas patients who had to flee the state to seek assistance,” said Gallegos.
Oklahoma, however, is no longer a safe haven. The governor signed a law last week applying the same restrictions as Texas. Abortions are now illegal afterwards a heartbeat is detected in the embryo on an ultrasound, which occurs as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. The law, called the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act, makes no exceptions for rape or incest. It allows abortion only in the event of a medical emergency, as if the mother’s life was at risk.
“Many women are discovering they are pregnant at around the same time, so the window for access to abortion has shrunk dramatically,” said Gallegos.
The law prohibits most abortions in Oklahoma. In 2019, 56.4% of abortions in the state were performed after the sixth week of pregnancy, when a heartbeat is normally detected, while 43.6% were performed at the sixth week or earlier. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The law empowers individuals to sue virtually any person who performs or “facilitates” an abortion within six years of the procedure. The defendant would face $ 10,000 in damages for each abortion performed. Patients trying to have an abortion cannot be sued.
“It doesn’t make sense now for Texas women to go to Oklahoma,” Gallegos said. Since the law was passed, the Tulsa Women’s Clinic hasn’t been able to perform abortions on about half of the patients requiring the procedure because they didn’t arrive before heart activity in the embryo was detected, Gallegos said. .
Some women who are pushed back to Oklahoma will likely cross state lines to abort at nearby clinics Arkansas Other Kansas, where the laws are not that restrictive. However, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, Arkansas also plans to outlaw abortion. That would remain just four clinics in Kansas, where the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right to abortion in 2019, to serve millions of people in the region.
In such a scenario, waiting times in Kansas clinics would dramatically increase due to the influx of patients from neighboring states which would further restrict access, according to Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for Trust Women, which has clinics in Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma. City providing abortions.
“The clinical system in this region is not robust enough to withstand the loss of so many clinics,” said Gingrich-Gaylord.
Although the Food and Drug Administration now allows women to receive the abortion pill in the mail, Oklahoma also prohibits doctors from using telemedicine appointments to prescribe the pill and monitor patients who take it. the pill mifepristone, is approved for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. In 2019, about 54% of early pregnancy miscarriages were medical abortions with the pill, According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dozens of the nation’s leading medical groups, in pleadings filed before the Supreme Court last year, argued that abortion is a safe and essential component of health care. These included the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and numerous others.
Benjamin with the public health group said that egg overturning creates a “huge risk to women’s health”.
“When the procedure is not performed under proper guidance in a sterile and appropriate environment, there is a risk of septic infection and death,” he said. “There is a risk of infertility. There is a risk of bleeding to death.”
Obstetricians and gynecologists are concerned that proper medical training on how to safely perform abortions will precipitate if Roe is overturned. The percentage of residents receiving abortion training could drop from 92% in 2020 to 56% if state abortion bans go into effect, according to a study published last week in Obstetrics and Gynecology, a revised medical journal. equal. The authors stated that training is important not only for abortion care but for other medical skills such as miscarriage management.
Dr Jen Villavicencio, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, called the Supreme Court ruling an unprecedented attack on women’s health care that will create fear, confusion and hinder patients’ access to more pregnant care. in general. With many women now facing the reality of having to travel to have an abortion, Villavicencio said the group is working to create an expanded network of doctors to help patients access treatment wherever they live.
“It is vital to expand access in states where it is not restricted to help those who travel from where it is,” he told CNBC in an emailed statement.
In the Northeast, Gov. Kathy Hochul promised that New York, which legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade, he will offer a safe haven to anyone who needs it.
“This is a fundamental right under attack”, Hochul said Thursday. “Come to New York. This is the birthplace of the women’s rights movement.”