Historic Supreme Court decision leaves Oklahoma abortion advocates defeated, opponents elated

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade — which for nearly 50 years had enshrined the right to abortion — Oklahomans had been living in a post-Roe world.

Abortions ceased in Oklahoma about a month ago, when a law went into effect banning the procedure at any point during pregnancy.

But the news of the Supreme Court’s decision still sent shockwaves through the state, leaving abortion advocates devastated. And it prompted celebration for conservative state leaders, who quickly set into effect the state’s “trigger law” criminalizing abortion and yanked licenses for the four abortion clinics in the state.

More: End of Roe makes abortion a crime in Oklahoma as state's abortion 'trigger' law takes effect

Demonstrators gather outside of the Oklahoma state Capitol to protest against the Supreme Court's decision to overturn legal abortions on Friday, June 24, 2022, in Oklahoma City, Okla.

At one such clinic, the Tulsa Women’s Clinic, staff have only been able to provide sonograms and make referrals to clinics out of state.

They’ve faced “complete despair and desperation from patients when we've had to tell them we can't see them,” said the clinic’s executive administrator, Andrea Gallegos.

Roe being overturned has left the clinic’s future uncertain, she said.

“What we've been doing is not something we've felt that could be sustainable for the long term,” she said. “To be able to sustain on doing just referrals when we've we've always done abortions at Tulsa Women’s — it's not sustainable to continue like this.”

Oklahoma’s existing ban made for a “less wild” day for Planned Parenthood staff at clinics in the state, but a difficult one nonetheless, said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which covers Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas.

More: Planned Parenthood answers call to help Oklahomans find abortions as Roe v. Wade ruling looms

In lawsuits still pending before the state Supreme Court, reproductive rights groups had hoped to use the protections of Roe to beat back abortion bans.

“Clearly, that's not available to us now,” Wales said. “And the chance of abortion returning at the local level in Oklahoma is very, very slim right now.”

Tamya Cox-Touré, the executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma and co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said abortion rights advocates know they’re facing an uphill battle in Oklahoma.

“We are still in this fight, and our work does not stop just because Roe v. Wade is overturned,” Cox-Touré said.

More: The Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Oklahoma leaders react

South, Midwest could bear brunt of restrictions with Roe v Wade overturned

Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, expects at least half of the states will either significantly curtail access to abortion or ban the procedure entirely.

Noting that about 50% of people seeking abortions are living in poverty, Northup said the patchwork of abortion access will fall hardest on those who face economic and systemic barriers to health care.

“It's going to leave vast swaths of the South and the Midwest without protection for abortion, and force people to drive thousands of miles if they have the means to do so,” she said. “Not all will have the means to do so.”

Although Oklahoma clinics stopped performing abortions last month, clinics in some neighboring states stopped performing the procedure Friday as they prepared for statewide bans to take effect at any time.

Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi all have “trigger” bans on the books that would ban nearly all abortions.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor and Governor Kevin Stitt during into a press conference about SCOTUS ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Blue Room at the Capitol Friday, June 24, 2022.

‘Just the beginning’ as Oklahoma abortion trigger law goes into effect

At a news conference Friday, Gov. Kevin Stitt and Attorney General John O’Connor, both Republicans, said they hoped other states would follow Oklahoma’s lead in banning abortions.

The Supreme Court’s decision followed multiple anti-abortion laws passed this year in Oklahoma, the most recent being House Bill 4327, which banned abortion from the point of fertilization.

“It’s been a wonderful year,” said Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life. “It's been a realization by our Legislature that taking bold steps to protect the lives of unborn children was the right thing to do.

“The Supreme Court reversing Roe v. Wade, is an indication of the same,” he said.

Lauinger got involved with the anti-abortion cause after the birth of his firstborn in 1972, just a few months before Roe v. Wade was decided, he said. Reading headlines of the court’s decision then felt like a smack in the face, Lauinger said.

“So 49 years and five months later, we're very gratified and happy to see the court right that terrible wrong,” he said.

He said pro-life advocacy work will continue, shifting focus to ensure people have the help they need to carry their pregnancies to term.

“This is not the end,” Lauinger said. “It’s, in many ways, just the beginning of a new phase of the pro-life efforts.”

Several Oklahoma religious leaders praised the court’s decision, including Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, who said the court fixed a “legal and moral mistake.”

The Rev. Price Oswalt, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City priest and founder of Holy Innocents Chapel, said Friday was a historic day that should be celebrated.

Oklahoma Faith Leaders, a coalition of pastors, lauded the decision for offering “historic protections for the unborn.”

“Thankfully, we, along with the Oklahoma legislature and Governor Kevin Stitt, have been preparing for this day,” Oklahoma Faith Leaders President Paul Abner said in a statement, praising state legislation that has made “Oklahoma an abortion-free state.”

Connie Lang, who has coordinated 40 Days for Life in Norman since 2014, was ecstatic Friday. She had been hopeful Roe would be overturned, but didn’t believe it would happen, she said in an interview.

Now, she said, crisis pregnancy centers’ work will become more important.

“Everybody is going to be more focused on helping women, and that's the word that's got to get out,” Lang said. “This is not a negative for women. This is the biggest positive that's ever happened.”

Contributing: Staff writer Carmen Forman

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma abortion advocates, opponents react to Roe v Wade ruling