Gov. Brad Henry, a self-described pro-choice Democrat, signed House Bill 1595 into law on May 21 of this year. The bill, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, puts Oklahoma into the top five strictest states in terms of abortion reporting requirements.
Tamya Cox, program director for ACLU of Oklahoma, said her organization is concerned with some of the bill’s provisions, but will not make a decision about taking action against it until August.
“We have no plans of filing a lawsuit yet,” Cox said, “but advocates across the country are concerned at the reporting requirements and the wide range of people who are allowed to initiate injunctive relief against a woman seeking an abortion.”
HB Bill 1595 was authored by Rep. Daniel Sullivan, R-Tulsa, and was, according to Sullivan, supposed to proactively prevent women in Oklahoma from choosing abortion based on the gender of the fetus. The bill’s provisions also require abortion providers in the state to file at least one lengthy form for each abortion performed.
The new paperwork is called the Individual Abortion Form. Taking up nearly 10 pages in the bill, it is 10 times the length of the current form that abortion providers must file with the Oklahoma Department of Health. The information collected includes the age, race and education level of the mother; total number of children and/or abortions prior to the current abortion; abortion method; reason for abortion; anesthesia information; method of payment; and where the abortion was performed.
If a complication develops in the course of an abortion, providers must also file a Complications of Induced Abortion Report, a four-page document including information about the physician, including name, field of specialty and license number, age of patient and nature of complication.
Sullivan said the information is necessary to help the government alleviate the conditions that lead to the choice to have an abortion.
“We want to identify the causes and try to eliminate them,” he said. “We’re trying to drill down and find out why the abortion is being performed.”
‘A FORM OF JUDICIAL RAPE’
Opponents of the law, including Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, say there are other factors involved in the passage of the bill. McDaniel was one of six legislators to vote against the bill in the House.
“This bill is another way to put more barriers in the way of women seeking treatment,” she said. “It just gives them one more issue to deal with.”
McDaniel said she is also concerned about the administrative load the reports create for abortion providers and believes it is a tactic to make it more difficult for women to get an abortion. Currently, there are only three clinics in the state that specialize in reproductive services. None of the clinics responded to requests for comments. McDaniel said the silence of the clinics did not surprise her.
“They are afraid to speak out since the murder of Dr. Tiller,” she said, referring to the May 31 killing of Wichita, Kan., doctor George Tiller, who was shot to death in church by a self-proclaimed pro-life activist.
Cox said the ACLU has been focused on the Oklahoma law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo a mandatory ultrasound, but believed that an upcoming August reproductive-rights meeting for the ACLU nationwide would bring the organization’s focus to HB 1595.
“We see it as a form of judicial rape for women who are victims of rape or incest,” Cox said. “These women who need help are being re-victimized.”
‘WE WANT TO HELP THEM’
Beyond the issues of access to services, Cox said the ACLU is concerned about the portion of the bill that allows several people directly and indirectly related to the patient to seek injunctive relief.
“We’ve never seen such a wide range of people who are allowed to sue for injunctive relief,” Cox said. “The law actually allows former doctors who have no relation to the patient to sue for relief. That would be troubling at any level, not just in reproductive rights.”
The portion of the law to which Cox is referring is in Section 2, Subsection B. It allows a cause to be brought by the patient, a district attorney with “appropriate jurisdiction,” the attorney general, or “any person who is the spouse, parent, sibling, or guardian of, or a current or former licensed health care provider of, the female upon whom an abortion has been performed or attempted to be performed.”
Cox said the verbiage raises legal complications that are not addressed in the bill, including the standing of siblings, spouses or health care providers to seek injunctive relief. The bill makes abortion providers vulnerable to lawsuits from persons with no direct interest in the procedure.
The law also requires the state health department to develop a Web site that will publish the reports filed by abortion providers. Rep. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City, said he voted against the bill primarily because of this provision.
“I voted no on this bill because it required the state health department to have a Web site that places all personal information about the patient on the health department Web site,” he said. “This would be available to the public. I felt this was in violation of the federal (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) HIPAA laws.”
Keri Parks, director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma, also cited concerns about the development of the Web site, and not just for privacy reasons.
“Of course, we’re disappointed that what we believe was a very poor bill has now become law. All Oklahomans concerned with quality reproductive health care for women should be gravely disappointed over this action,” she said. “And the fiscal impact ” which is considerable ” still must be resolved.”
Sullivan admits there will be a cost to develop and maintain the site, but he believes the cost is justified.
“Protecting life is an important part of what we do,” he said. “Abortion can have a devastating impact on a woman, physically and psychologically. We want to help them.”
Sullivan is not the only one who believes the bill will help women in Oklahoma. In addition to the 88 of 101 House legislators who voted for the bill, several pro-life groups applauded the governor’s signature, including Oklahomans for Life, a Tulsa-based pro-life group.
The group’s state chairman, Tony Lauinger, thanked members in a legislative report for their support in “speaking up in defense of our littlest sisters and brothers.”
Lauinger also wrote that Henry “may have concluded that a veto would be overridden by the Legislature (or, as some speculate, he may be thinking of running for the U.S. Senate).”
‘AN INSULT TO ALL WOMEN’
Lauinger also referenced the primary provision for which the bill received national attention: prohibiting abortions based on gender selection. Sullivan said the bill was introduced in part to proactively address the possibility that sex-selection abortions are being performed in Oklahoma.
“We don’t know if it’s happening in Oklahoma,” he said, “but we know it’s a growing trend around the country.”
Parks said there is no evidence that “sex selection through abortion is happening in Oklahoma.”
“HB 1595 is an insult to all women,” Parks said in a prepared statement, “many of whom face difficult, emotionally shattering decisions for real reasons, not those imagined by proponents of HB 1595.”
Parks also addressed the new forms required by HB 1595: “Further, the statistical reporting involved in this bill does nothing to improve health outcomes and in fact may put women’s protected health information at risk of inadvertent disclosure. The true aim of HB 1595 is to make it onerous and difficult for abortion providers to deliver health care services to women.”
Sullivan denied that the reporting was to make it difficult for women to get abortions and said that the information was necessary to help develop strategies to eliminate the causes of abortion and make it less necessary for Oklahoma women to seek the option.
INSIDE THE REPORT
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, made her Oklahoma House of Representative debate presentation on House Bill 1595 available to Oklahoma Gazette. In it, she details statistics that she believes should concern all Oklahomans.
“We go into some of these debates knowing we’re not going to change anyone’s mind,” McDaniel said. “So, we take it as an opportunity to talk about the status of women’s health in Oklahoma. These are the relevant statistics.”
Oklahoma ranks first in women who are incarcerated. According to McDaniel, the state also is first in the rate of child abuse deaths. Unwanted children, she said, are more at risk of being abused.
Oklahoma is second only to Nebraska in the number of children in state custody, and ranks sixth nationally in the rate of teen birth.
McDaniel said that lack of access to health care and education is a major contributor to the rate of abortions in Oklahoma.
“I have five children and eight grandchildren,” she said. “I’m pro-life. If we had clinics where women had access to affordable health care and good information so they could make informed choices, I’d be on the other side of this issue. But I’m 60, and I remember the struggle for these rights, and I remember when women did not have access to birth control. I’m concerned when I see these rights and access being eroded.”
McDaniel said another relevant statistic for women in Oklahoma is that the state ranks 42nd in the U.S. in women’s overall health. “Greg Horton