OKLAHOMA CITY — Several reproductive rights groups sued Monday seeking to halt Gov. Kevin Stitt’s abortion ban on all but life-saving procedures.
Trust Women Oklahoma City and Planned Parenthood Federation of America said they filed the emergency lawsuit against Stitt and several other state and county officials in an effort to protect essential, time-sensitive women’s health care.
The groups argued Oklahoma’s move violates Roe v. Wade, a nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court ruling that allows abortions. The groups also said forcing women to travel out of state to seek abortion care increases the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“Oklahoma’s abuse of emergency powers to ban abortion care is dangerous and unconstitutional,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Oklahoma has tried year after year to limit access to abortion, and the governor’s order is a cynical attempt to use the current crisis to push an ideological agenda.”
Stitt announced Friday that abortion services were part of his issued ban on elective surgeries and minor medical procedures. His order allows abortions to continue if they’re necessary to prevent serious health risks to the pregnant mother or medical emergencies.
Stitt said Friday the rapid spread of COVID-19 has increased the demand for hospital beds and created a shortage of protective equipment required for health care professionals. He said the state must ensure that health care professionals have the resources they need.
“This lawsuit from Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups demands an exception to prioritize abortion over all other health care in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency in our state,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement. “It attacks the governor’s executive order, which preserves limited health care resources and medical safety equipment in blatant disregard of the escalating illness and death this pandemic is inflicting on Oklahomans.”
Hunter said his office will vigorously defend the governor’s executive order and the necessity to give precedence to essential medical procedures during the “daunting public health crisis.”
“Make no mistake, this lawsuit will itself drain significant resources, medical and legal, from emergency efforts, and likely, directly and indirectly, bring harm to Oklahomans as a result,” he said.
Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, which runs a clinic in Oklahoma City that provides abortion services, said Stitt’s order will force women to travel to the next nearest abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas, to receive care.
“The state claims this order is meant to protect health care professionals and stop the spread of the virus, but forcing women to travel out of state for abortion care is completely contrary to that goal,” she said in a statement. “Like many of us, our patients are taking care of kids while schools are closed, and some have lost their jobs. Having to tell them we can’t help them, that the state has tied our hands, is heart-wrenching.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood also sued Texas last week after the state implemented a similar abortion ban. A federal judge Monday stopped Texas' temporary ban and allowed abortions there to continue.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.