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Oklahoma clinic will shut down if Supreme Court overturns abortion ruling


A surgical tech and recovery room staff member, walk a patient from Texas to the recovery room following her abortion on the Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City, U.S., December 6, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

The Tulsa Women’s Clinic, considered one of 4 abortion providers in Oklahoma, may need to shut down completely as soon as this summer if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade as expected later this 12 months.

A leaked draft opinion from the high court last week showed that the conservative majority is ready to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. If the court follows through with the draft opinion, it will cause a schism between states where abortion stays legal and people where it’s banned, leaving thousands and thousands of ladies with little or no access to abortion.

Oklahoma is considered one of 26 states that plans to ban all abortions if Roe is overturned, in response to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that supports abortion rights.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed laws in April that makes performing an abortion a felony punishable by as much as 10 years in prison or a $100,000 positive. The law makes an exception for medical emergencies where the mother’s life is at risk but not for cases of rape or incest. The abortion ban goes into effect in August, after the Supreme Court’s current term ends and a ruling on Roe would have presumably been made.

“It could mean no abortion, so it means no clinic,” said Andrea Gallegos, executive administrator on the Tulsa Women’s Clinic. “We’d not give you the chance to proceed to supply the service that we offer,” Gallegos said.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said overturning Roe would further cement inequality within the U.S. health-care system, primarily punishing lower-income women, including minority communities that already struggle to access quality health care. Individuals with financial means who live in states where abortion faces a complete ban will give you the chance to travel to other states where the procedure stays legal, Benjamin said.

“Well-to-do women is not going to have this as a major barrier. Lower-income women will,” he said.

Some women who need an abortion are already forced to cross state lines even with Roe in place. When Texas passed a law last 12 months banning most abortions, patients began to flee to clinics in neighboring Oklahoma to receive care. The Tulsa Women’s Clinic saw its patients nearly triple as its sister facility in San Antonio, Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, began referring patients there, in response to Gallegos.

“We became a shelter for Texas patients who were having to flee the state to hunt care,” Gallegos said.

Oklahoma, nevertheless, is not any longer a shelter. The governor signed a law last week implementing the identical restrictions as Texas. Abortions at the moment are illegal after a heartbeat is detected within the embryo on an ultrasound, which occurs as early because the sixth week of pregnancy. The law, called the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act, makes no exceptions for rape or incest. It only allows abortions in medical emergencies, like if the mother’s life is in danger.

“Many ladies are only discovering they’re pregnant at concerning the same time, so the window to give you the chance to access abortion has narrowed drastically,” Gallegos said.

The law bans most abortions in Oklahoma. In 2019, 56.4% of abortions within the state were performed after the sixth week of pregnancy, when a heartbeat is generally detected, while 43.6% were performed at or before week six, in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The law empowers private individuals to sue virtually any one who performs or “aids and abets” an abortion inside six years of the procedure. The defendant would face $10,000 in damages for every abortion performed. Patients searching for abortions can’t be sued.

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“It doesn’t make sense now for Texas women to travel to Oklahoma,” Gallegos said. For the reason that law passed, the Tulsa Women’s Clinic couldn’t perform abortions on about half the patients searching for the procedure because they didn’t arrive before cardiac activity was detected within the embryo, Gallegos said.

Some women who’re turned away in Oklahoma will likely cross state lines to get abortions at clinics in neighboring Arkansas and Kansas, where the laws aren’t as restrictive. Nevertheless, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, Arkansas also plans to outlaw abortion. That may leave just 4 clinics in Kansas, where the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion rights in 2019, to serve thousands and thousands of individuals within the region.

In that scenario, wait times at clinics in Kansas would increase substantially as a result of the influx of patients from neighboring states which might further limit access, according Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, spokesperson for Trust Women, which has clinics in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City that provide abortions.

“The clinic system on this region, it’s just not robust enough to take the lack of so many clinics,” said Gingrich-Gaylord.

Though the Food and Drug Administration now allows women to receive the abortion pill by mail, Oklahoma also bans doctors from using telemedicine appointments to prescribe the pill and monitor patients taking it. The pill, mifepristone, is approved to be used as much as 10 weeks into pregnancy. In 2019, about 54% of early pregnancy abortions were medical abortions with the pill, in response to the CDC.

Dozens of the nation’s leading medical groups, in briefs filed before the Supreme Court last 12 months, argued that abortion is a secure and essential component of health care. They included the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and diverse others. 

Benjamin with the general public health group said overturning Roe creates an “enormous risk for girls’s health.” 

“When the procedure just isn’t done under proper guidance in a sterile and appropriate setting, there is a risk of septic infection and death,” he said. “There is a risk of sterility. There is a risk of bleeding to death.”

Obstetricians and gynecologists are fearful that proper medical training on how you can safely perform abortions could plummet if Roe is overturned. The proportion of residents who receive abortion training could drop from 92% as of 2020 to 56% if state abortion bans go into effect, in response to a study published last week in Obstetrics and Gynecology, a peer-reviewed medical journal. The authors said the training is significant not only for abortion care, but for other medical skills comparable to managing miscarriages.

Dr. Jen Villavicencio, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, called the draft Supreme Court ruling an unprecedented attack on women’s health care that can create fear, confusion and impede patients’ access to pregnancy care more generally. With many ladies now facing the fact of getting to travel to get an abortion, Villavicencio said the group is working to create an expanded network of physicians to assist patients access care wherever they live.

“It is vital that we expand access in states where it just isn’t restricted in an effort to help those that travel from where it’s,” she told CNBC in an announcement via email.

Within the Northeast, Gov. Kathy Hochul has vowed that Latest York, which legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade, will offer secure harbor to anyone who needs one.

“This can be a fundamental right under assault,” Hochul said Thursday. “Come to Latest York. That is the birthplace of the ladies’s rights movement.”

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