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Oklahoma Is Going After Abortion Doctors For Doing Their Jobs

Oklahoma state Rep. David Brumbaugh reaches forward to cast his vote on the floor of the Oklahoma House at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO, SUE OGROCKI
Oklahoma state Rep. David Brumbaugh reaches forward to cast his vote on the floor of the Oklahoma House at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO, SUE OGROCKI

What’s the quickest way to ban legal abortions in your state? Take away the medical licenses of every doctor that performs them. At least that’s what Oklahoma lawmakers seem to believe.

A bill that will revoke the license of any doctor who performs abortions has landed on the desk of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R). While the conservative governor hasn’t yet said whether or not she will sign it, the Republican-dominated state legislature is eager for this proposed law to see the light of day, saying it will “protect life.”

However, abortion rights advocates say the legislation violates the Constitution by banning a doctor from providing a medical procedure that is entirely legal.

“Whether this bill is signed into law or not, the fact that it’s made it to the governor’s desk is appalling and offensive,” said Dr. Pratima Gupta, a member of Physicians for Reproductive Health.

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And, Gupta added, it will force doctors to give their patients deceptive and unscientific advice — that they should not go through with a requested abortion — in hopes of keeping their medical license. Many anti-abortion state laws already put doctors in this difficult situation. For instance, Arizona passed a law forcing doctors to tell their patients that an abortion is reversible — advice that remains unproven.

“Patients trust me to care for them and give them the best medical advice,” Gupta said. “This bill would force us, as doctors, to go against our own beliefs.”

In response to the bill’s advancement, Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, the president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), stressed that this legislation would only put women at further risk, as they may instead turn to unsafe, illegal methods to end their pregnancy. Politics, he emphasized, have no place in an exam room.

“Health care decisions should be made jointly by patients and their trusted health care providers,” DeFrancesco wrote in a Monday statement. “Not by politicians who lack medical training and who clearly do not have women’s best interests in mind.”

It’s common for anti-abortion lawmakers to attack doctors by piling on red tape to make their jobs unnecessarily difficult or by trying to intimidate them with public threats. And it only intensifies at the federal level. Currently, a group of House conservatives are elbowing their way into major medical companies and laboratories to gather the names of any researcher that uses tissue from aborted fetuses to conduct studies. These tactics are working. There are now five states that only have one clinic that can provide abortions — the rest have been restricted, or intimidated, out of business.

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And in Oklahoma specifically, physicians are already few and far between. If this bill passes, advocates said it could worsen the problem by driving more doctors out of state.

“We already have a severe physician shortage in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Emily Virgin (D) at a House debate over the bill last week. “Are you at all concerned about physicians leaving Oklahoma if this bill becomes law?”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a group that litigates anti-abortion legislation, has already indicated that if this bill makes it past Fallin’s desk, they will take the state to court for the unconstitutional restrictions the law places on doctors.

But according to GOP lawmakers, there’s “no way it will impact the medical community.” In statehouse discussions, bill backers said abortions and the “erosion of the family” are the main reason Oklahoma is struggling with poverty, drug addiction, and other social issues.

“If we take care of the morality, God will take care of the economy,” said Rep. David Brumbaugh (R).