Oklahoma Supreme Court Overturns Part of State's Abortion Ban

Rules that women have right to abortion if needed to preserve their life
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 22, 2023 12:01 AM CDT
Oklahoma Supreme Court Overturns Part of State's Abortion Ban
FILE - Abortion-rights supporters rally at the State Capitol on May 3, 2022, in Oklahoma City.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

A divided Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a portion of the state’s near total ban on abortion, ruling women have a right to abortion when pregnancy risks their health, not just in a medical emergency, the AP reports. It was a narrow win for abortion rights advocates since the US Supreme Court struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade last year. Oklahoma's top court ruled that a woman has the right under the state Constitution to receive an abortion to preserve her life if her doctor determines that continuing the pregnancy would endanger it due to a condition she has or is likely to develop during the pregnancy. Previously, the right to an abortion could only take place in the case of medical emergency.

“Requiring one to wait until there is a medical emergency would further endanger the life of the pregnant woman and does not serve a compelling state interest,” the ruling states. In the 5-4 ruling, the court said the state law uses both the words “preserve” and “save” the mother’s life as an exception to the abortion ban. “The language ‘except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency’ is much different from ‘preserve her life,’” according to the ruling. “Absolute certainty" by the physician that the mother's life could be endangered "is not required, however, mere possibility or speculation is insufficient” to determine that an abortion is needed to preserve the woman’s life, according to the ruling.

The court, however, declined to rule on whether the state Constitution grants the right to an abortion for other reasons, and the ruling is unlikely to mean abortion becomes widely available in the state. The court ruled in the lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood, Tulsa Women's Reproductive Clinic and others challenging the state laws passed after Roe v. Wade was overturned. “This ruling leaves out too many Oklahomans. Oklahomans shouldn’t have to travel across state lines just to reach an abortion clinic, and it is heartbreaking that many will not be able to do so,” said Dr. Alan Braid, an abortion provider and plaintiff in the case said in a statement.

(More Oklahoma stories.)

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