May 6, 2022

Impact of Oklahoma’s six-week abortion ban a precursor of what’s to come

Matthew Reichbach

Protesters against abortion bans hold a sign that says, "Everyone loves someone whose had an abortion."

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and other providers could be opening up more brick-and-mortar abortion clinics near New Mexico state lines, one official with PPRM said.

On the heels of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court document this week, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill Tuesday, effectively immediately, that initiated a Texas-style mechanism to make abortion unobtainable in that state at about six weeks gestation. The law would allow anyone to sue an organization or individual who “aids and abets” a patient receiving an abortion on or about six weeks gestation.

Officials with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains told NM Political Report earlier this week, before Politico reported on the U.S. Supreme Court draft decision indicating the court will likely overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, that what’s been happening in Oklahoma could be a precursor of what’s to come for New Mexico in the coming months.

Earlier this year, Stitt signed a law that will outlaw the procedure entirely except in the event of a medical emergency, punishable as a felony and a $100,000 fine. That law will go into effect in August.

Before the six week ban went into effect on Tuesday, Oklahoma abortion clinics served 45 percent of abortion patients coming from Texas since the beginning of September, Neta Meltzer, director of communications strategy for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told NM Political Report.

Texas’ six-week gestation law, which made abortion illegal in that state through what some call a “vigilante” style enforcement, went into effect on Sept. 1.

While abortion clinic providers and patients in every state have felt the impacts of Texas’ six week gestation law, Oklahoma providers and patients have absorbed more Texas abortion patients than any other state. This means that more Texas patients will be looking to other states to travel, in addition to the Oklahoma patients who will now also have to shift to other out-of-state abortion providers.

Meltzer said Oklahoma laws restricting abortion would “definitely” impact New Mexico.

“It impacts Texas patients, Oklahoma patients and has ripple effects in neighboring states,” she said.

Dr. Kristina Tocce, a provider with PPRM, told NM Political Report that PPRM and other abortion providers are looking at everything they can do to prepare for this paradigm shift in abortion care, including, possibly, building new clinics in places near the New Mexico state line to better serve patients who have to travel from neighboring states. Abortion restrictions impact communities of color, often the least able to travel financially, the most.

“Now Texas patients are so reliant on Oklahoma. Forty-five percent [of Texas abortion patients] go to Oklahoma. Once Oklahoma is dark, then it will be not just those traveling patients. It’s all other patients served in Oklahoma,” Tocce said on Monday.

Tocce said there is another problem in reproductive medicine and it is a problem affecting all aspects of medical care after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Healthcare staffing is very precarious. The pandemic made medicine a challenging place to work right now,” she said.

Tocce said the fact that because abortion care is so time-sensitive that when faced with the additional challenge of staffing shortages, this leads to another layer of stress on the facilities providing care and it can affect patients seeking services beyond abortion care.

“It’s a really hard thing to grapple with as a health care provider involved in running services. How do you prioritize things like this and just know some patients are seeking birth control, STI [sexually transmitted infection] testing may not have as much access for those services. It’s a terrible situation,” she said.

Tocce said the fact that Texas has made providing abortion services impossible for patients after more than six weeks in gestation shows that what one state does is not limited to that state alone.

“It’s impacted the entire nation. Every single time a state passes something it affects the entire nation. Every person of reproductive age is affected by these unjust laws,” she said.