Oklahoma recently passed a law that will collect personal details about every single abortion performed in the state and post them on a public website. Women will have to answer questions about their age, income, race, number of previous pregnancies, type of health insurance, whether they’re a state employee, date of abortion, and location where the procedure is performed. Although the questionnaire does not ask for name, address, or “any information specifically identifying the patient,” as Feminists for Choice points out, many of these questions could be used to identify a woman in a small community.
In recent weeks, the law has been generating attention nationwide. On Monday, ThinkProgress spoke to Oklahoma state Rep. Jeannie McDaniel (D), an outspoken opponent of HR 1595, which was sponsored by two male lawmakers — Sen. Todd Lamb (R) and Rep. Dan Sullivan (R). McDaniel stressed that this bill is part of a pattern by the Oklahoma legislature to take away power from women:
McDANIEL: I’ve served five sessions, and I have one more term to go before I’m up for reelection. Each of the successive five years, there has been a bill introduced in the Oklahoma legislature regarding women’s reproductive rights. … Each year, it creeps a little more toward taking away women’s freedoms, more restrictions between the doctors. [...]
TP: So how did this get passed?
McDANIEL: Well, in our state, we have a very strong feeling that women aren’t capable of making reproductive decisions when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. It’s a very strong effort pro-life. And while I don’t advocate abortion, certainly, I understand the Supreme Court gives us the right to have availability to that service, and I do believe that women have the right to make the choice and to make healthy choices.
In the interview, McDaniel stressed that not only is the bill trying to intimidate women from receiving reproductive care, but it’s intended to discourage doctors from providing the services in the first place. Physicians are required to fill out the survey — even if they work at a private institution — and if they don’t, they will face sanctions. “I think what we’re doing is we’re driving them out of the services completely to providing women’s health care,” said McDaniel. Listen to excerpts of the interview here:
One of the recent bills McDaniel mentioned that takes away women’s reproductive choices was legislation that would have required a woman to submit to an ultrasound and hear descriptions of the fetus’s heart, limbs, and internal organs before receiving an abortion. The law said that the woman would be allowed to “avert her eyes.” However, a judge struck down the law, saying it “violated a clause in the State Constitution requiring that bills deal with only one subject.” The Center for Reproductive Rights is now challenging the new abortion law on the same grounds. On Monday, the court postponed activation of the law until Dec. 4 as part of the legal challenge. The state attorney general had requested the delay in order to have “more time to respond.”
As Megan Carpentier notes, “Making abortion illegal or difficult to obtain doesn’t reduce its prevalence in a country. It simply increases the health risks to the women who seek them anyway. The only proven way to stop women from having abortions is to help them make their own choices about when to become pregnant.”
Unfortunately, if the court doesn’t overturn this law, there may not be a legislative fix coming anytime soon. McDaniel said that she’s sure there aren’t the votes right now to repeal the law right now. “I think it’s an education process, and I think the more educated a constituency is, or people in a state are, that they will realize that access to affordable reproductive health care is the key,” McDaniel replied.
McDANIEL: Well, to start out with, I’ve served five sessions, and I have one more term to go before I’m up for reelection. Each of the successive five years, there has been a bill introduced in the Oklahoma legislature regarding women’s reproductive rights. And it’s just sort of middle-of-the-way with parental permission, then it was — just one thing after another. Ultrasounds.
Each year, it creeps a little more toward taking away women’s freedoms, more restrictions between the doctors, and what we’ve seen is, more and more, the legislation has really been aimed at the physicians providing the reproductive services, i.e. this survey is really a requirement of the physicians to fill it out and send it in to the health department. So I view it as more encroachment on women’s privacy regarding their health care between them and their physicians.
TP: So how did this get passed?
McDANIEL: Well, in our state, we have a very strong feeling that women aren’t capable of making reproductive decisions when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. It’s a very strong effort pro-life. And while I don’t advocate abortion, certainly, I understand the Supreme Court gives us the right to have availability to that service, and I do believe that women have the right to make the choice and to make healthy choices. I’ve really tried to be a voice of reason to say, “Look, with the more restrictions you put on, you really limit women’s choices to make healthy decisions, whether it’s even to find adoption opportunities, prenatal care.”
I’m afraid with all of these hurdles they’re putting in women’s way, they’re actually moving women away from making smart, healthy choices, because women may turn to using the RU-486 drug and simply say, “I’m not going to these clinics, I’m not going in for reproductive services,” and take it into their own hands. And that’s what saddens me. [...]
TP: Do you have a legislative strategy at all going forward? Is there something that you think you can do?
McDANIEL: I think it’s an education process, and I think the more educated a constituency is, or people in a state are, that they will realize that access to affordable reproductive health care is the key. Ending unintended pregnancies would be my goal. My goal would be idealistic — never to have to have people face the consequence of an unintended pregnancy. Certainly we will probably continue to have pregnancies that may have that outcome, and that’s again, between a woman, her physician, her family, and her faith. But my goal would be to have everyone educated enough, and access to reproductive services, to where they can make a healthy decision about their pregnancies, and not have to make sad or bad choices.
TP: If the court, for example, rules that this law is constitutional, do you think there would be enough support to repeal it at all, or do you think for now it would be set?
McDANIEL: Absolutely not, Amanda, no, it would not. The further we go from Roe v. Wade — I think young women today have grown up in a very different environment than I did. I can barely remember, in the early 60s, that not all women even had access to the birth control pill or reproductive services because it was restricted to married women only.
I think women today don’t realize what it was like to not have a voice. I don’t think many today would think it was right if you wanted a tubal ligation to have to get your husband’s permission, but that’s still the case in many places and certainly many hospitals, especially faith-based hospitals.
So I don’t think — I think it’s different, and I don’t want to compare myself — because I’m 60 — to a young woman today who’s 21 or 25. But what I would ask them is, “Is it the state’s business what transpires between you and your physician?” And what troubles me about the survey is the fact that it asks very personal questions about your income, your education, your own lifestyle, your health, and I’m not sure that’s something I would want posted about myself on the Internet, with or without the name. I think these are very personal questions. I just don’t think it’s part of government responsibility to be in these.
And I might point out that these aren’t just people who are using state aid, to have these procedures done. These are people in hospitals, in private clinics — this is for anyone who undergoes these services. So if you would, let’s say, have a pregnancy that was terminated naturally — a miscarriage, what we use to call it today, they call them “spontaneous abortions” — you’re subject to these questions as well. It’s not just women having abortions; it’s any pregnancy that was terminated and someone goes in for a procedure.
And the physician, as I understand it, is required to fill out this survey. And what you might note, in it, there are sanctions for physicians, I believe, who fail to do this. So I think it’s same as the ultrasound bill last year. It’s putting more and more responsibility and sanctions on physicians, and I think what we’re doing is we’re driving them out of the services completely to providing women’s health care.