One Last Firewall for Choice in Oklahoma?

Andrea Grimes

Anti-choice politicians in Oklahoma have tried year after year to make it harder for women to access abortion despite the fact that and have been thwarted by the courts. Now there may be no check or balance on anti-choice legislation.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 is the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. In the past few years, a woman’s right to choose whether and when to bear a child has become increasingly threatened by federal and state laws, clinic harassment, and provider violence. Because the “right to choose” depends on many factors, Rewire is publishing a series of articles on abortion providers, state laws, and other threats to women’s fundamental rights under Roe.

Andrea Grimes is a contributing writer to Rewire.

Hard work. Persistence. Resolve. These are powerfully American traits, right? Americans love these words. American politicians, especially. They’re key terms dropped left and right in political speeches on both, well, the left and the right. But in Oklahoma, persistence has turned into a dogged political slog, with anti-choice politicians trying, year after year, to make it harder for women to access abortion despite the fact that, year after year, their efforts have been struck down in court.

“We have a great fear that Oklahoma will be one of the states this year that has basically greased the skids for anti-choice legislation,” said Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a phone interview. This election cycle, Crane says Oklahoma lost a powerful “firewall” that stood between reproductive freedom and a relentless group of anti-choice law makers: Governor Brad Henry. While he was in office, Crane said, Henry would “stand between politicians and legislators who wanted to impose restrictions on women’s rights.”

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But Gov. Henry, who repeatedly vetoed legislation requiring pre-abortion ultrasounds and that protected doctors who withheld information about fetuses from lawsuits, was term-limited out of office. Sitting at the governor’s desk now is Republican Mary Fallin, who has voted against stem cell research and for personhood legislation that would give fetuses protection under the 14th amendment. Fallin will be no firewall between Oklahoma women and, once again this year, legislation that requires doctors to show and describe ultrasounds to abortion-seeking women in the hour before their procedures.

“There’s basically no check or balance in the whole state for reproductive freedom,” said Crane.

Today, Oklahoma’s firewall is not a government entity but the non-profit Center for Reproductive Rights, which has brought suit against the state on behalf of abortion providers and their patients in Oklahoma. Staff Attorney Stephanie Toti of CRR says the ultrasound legislation violates physicians’ right to free speech, right to patient-physician privacy, and women’s guarantee of equal protection under the law because it relies on “outdated stereotypes about women’s decision making ability and assumes that women are incapable of making important decisions without paternalistic help from the state.”

The CRR challenged anti-choice legislation in 2008 and 2009 on technical grounds–when laws are bundled together, rather than enacted separately, as anti-choice laws were in those years, they violate the Oklahoma constitution. But this year, CRR is going at the heart of the legislation itself. In their original petition, the CRR argues:

“H.B. 2780 restricts the performance of abortions in the State of Oklahoma and burdens the free speech rights of abortion providers and their patients. In addition, the Act exposes abortion providers to an array of intimidating civil and administrative penalties to which no other health care providers in the State are exposed.”

Ultrasounds are not medically necessary for abortion-seeking women, argues CRR, and forcing doctors to conduct them will dramatically impact their ability to provide abortions and infringe upon confidential doctor-patient relationships. At NARAL, Donna Crane says the ultrasound legislation is a ruse, anyway. While anti-choice legislators argue that ultrasound laws are about “informed consent,” giving women all the information they need to make a good decision, Crane says that’s an out-and-out lie. Instead, “this is about harassing women who have already made their decision.”

Currently the CRR lawsuit is in the early discovery stages, but Toti says they hope to go to trial late in the summer. And, of course, they will continue to challenge unconstitutional legislation that could lead the way to a federal challenge to Roe v. Wade. While there’s nothing on the books right now, says Toti, “it’s certainly down the road given the legislature’s persistence in year after year enacting these laws that are struck down as patently unconstitutional.”

Crane believes that Oklahomans will soon recognize that their newly elected conservative officials–who campaigned on a platform of economic reform and jobs–have pulled a “bait and switch” on the electorate. “This is a group of candidates that has very strong anti-choice records, but did not necessarily promote themselves that way.” Instead, says Crane, they “read the political climate” and saw a public charged up about jobs, but once in office, regressed back to the “same old agenda we’ve seen from these anti-choice politicians for years.”

Resolute dedication to taking a way a woman’s right to choose has been a staple of conservative politics in the state for decades–Crane says the anti-choice legislation “frenzy” is twenty years old. But year after year, politicians seem to come up with new ways to restrict reproductive freedom. Today, says Crane, the laws in Oklahoma are as bad as they’ve ever been.

“It’s sort of of hard to imagine how it could get worse,” she says. But each year, the number of anti-choice laws seems to tick up and up, and that’s hardly a new trend, even with recent ultrasound legislation. Each year, NARAL tracks Oklahoma’s steady increase in abortion restrictions. “If people are worried about the trends they’re seeing, they should be 15 times more worried.”

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.