OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers are asking the state’s attorney general to weigh in on whether it’s legal for Oklahoma women to obtain medication by mail to help them terminate pregnancies on their own.
State Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, said while abortion has been “outlawed” in Oklahoma, women are still able to acquire pills by mail that cause what he called “self-induced” abortions. So, he and seven other lawmakers are requesting that outgoing Attorney General John O’Connor “answer whether or not at-home abortions are a crime in Oklahoma.”
Hamilton defines “self-induced or self-managed abortion” as “an act performed or administered by the mother with the intent of causing the death of her unborn child.” He said the fact that women can still obtain pills by mail raises concerns for many Oklahoma lawmakers.
“We must protect the lives of unborn children at all costs,” Hamilton said. “We must also protect mothers who could self-administer an abortion without knowing it is a crime. Right now, it is unclear if self-induced abortions are against the law as there are many conflicting reports on the matter. I am looking forward to a response from Attorney General O’Connor to gain clarity, as the lives of innocent preborn children depend on it.”
In an email, the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which represents medical providers, said Oklahoma physicians are already restricted from prescribing certain drugs for abortion.
The group, though, said there are many reasons why it could be difficult to ban or track the distribution of mifepristone and misoprostol via mail. Both drugs are still legal in the United States, and the FDA approves them for multiple uses.
Mifepristone is often used to treat miscarriages, uterine fibroids, endometriosis and Cushing’s syndrome while misoprostol is prescribed for ulcers and to protect the stomach lining when using drugs like ibuprofen, the group said.
The group said outlawing the drugs’ use in Oklahoma could also interfere with the constitutional right to interstate commerce as well as other health-related regulations.
Hamilton did not respond to an email seeking additional comment and clarification about how the state could enforce a ban if the drugs are in fact deemed illegal.
Oklahoma lawmakers in recent months have passed some of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country. State law makes providing an abortion a felony, except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency, and physicians who provide abortions can face up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000.
In response to Hamilton’s request, Emily Wales, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said that “we live in the same nightmare when Oklahoma politicians are shocked by the obvious outcomes of their ideological crusade against fundamental rights.”
Wales, in an email, said her group for years warned that if the legal options for abortion were removed, patients would continue to seek control of their reproductive rights without the medical support they deserve.
“At least anti-abortion lawmakers are more transparent than we’ve ever seen them, blatantly asking the state to turn their constituents into criminals,” Wales said. “Oklahomans deserve high-quality, comprehensive reproductive health services — not cruelty and control over their lives.”
State Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, who authored Oklahoma’s law criminalizing abortion, said his bill did not specifically address mail-order pills. Though he did not sign onto Hamilton’s request, Olsen said “it’s a very appropriate request” to ask O’Connor to clarify the law.
“This could give us some guidance on just the best way to handle that because however it’s done, an abortion takes away a human life,” Olsen said. “So I think the long-term goal would be to figure out the best way to do that, and I just don’t know that any of us knows right now exactly the best way to do that.”
Olsen also said he doesn’t know how the state would enforce such a prohibition, particularly against out-of-state practitioners.
But, he also doesn’t see the legislative conversation shifting to the legality of mail-order drugs this coming session.
He said lawmakers have recently passed a lot of anti-abortion legislation, and there’s a desire to “let those settle in as the law of Oklahoma.”
“We’ll probably wait a little bit before doing anything further,” he said. “I think most of us are just not sure exactly what to do next, so we’re just going to try to hold the line on what we have and not loosen up in any way, and then hopefully we’ll get it figured out after a while the best way to go forward.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.