‘A Massive Ripple Effect’: Oklahoma Banning Abortion Will Worsen a Crisis

One Oklahoma abortion provider says she keeps "finding staff members crying in corners."

In Depth
‘A Massive Ripple Effect’: Oklahoma Banning Abortion Will Worsen a Crisis
Photo:Scott Olson/Getty Images (Getty Images)

Update 4/28/22, 11am: The Oklahoma House passed SB 1503, a six-week abortion ban identical to the Texas law currently in effect. If Gov. Kevin Stitt signs it, the bill would take effect immediately, nullifying Roe v. Wade in a second state. Today, the legislature will also vote on HB 4327, a total abortion ban using a Texas-style enforcement mechanism of private lawsuits.

Update 4/5/22, 2pm: The Oklahoma House resurrected a near-total abortion ban that passed the state senate last legislative session, SB 612, passing it and sending it to Gov. Kevin Stitt for his signature. The ban does not use the private lawsuit enforcement mechanism from the Texas law and, for that reason, it may be blocked by courts. Lawmakers are still considering the three other Texas-style bills mentioned below.

Oklahoma, the state to which droves of Texans have been fleeing to access abortion, is itself on the verge of banning abortion. Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, a provider in both states, could tell during her shifts last week that the impending laws were weighing on the minds of her colleagues. “They’ve been taking care of folks through the fallout,” she told Jezebel Thursday. “It has hit them so differently that now this is their home that it’s gonna happen to, too. I kept turning a corner and finding staff members crying in corners, just trying to really emotionally process what they’re about to go through.”

In the spring of 2020, after Texas Governor Greg Abbott dubiously shut down abortion clinics by executive order, Dr. Moayedi, who’d been providing abortions in Texas since 2004, realized it was time to get licensed in neighboring Oklahoma. For the past two years, she’s had to watch the constitutional right slowly flickering out in both states. Oklahoma lawmakers are now pushing no fewer than three bills that would ban abortions at six weeks or earlier, shutting down Texans’ sanctuary. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt will definitely sign them, and they’ll go into effect immediately. Abortion access is rapidly being decimated across the South and Great Plains, and in a few months, the solidly conservative-leaning Supreme Court will rule on a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade.

Abortion providers know first hand that banning the procedure doesn’t stop the need for it: Many people will go out of state—at least the ones who can gather the resources and coordinate the trip—or order pills online. Planned Parenthood released data last month showing that, between September 1 and December 31, 2021, its Oklahoma health centers experienced a nearly 2,500 percent increase in Texas abortion patients compared to prior year—a veritable flood. Put another way: More than half of patients at their Oklahoma clinics were Texans.

“It is very clear once you get into the clinic how racist these laws are.”

Rebecca Tong, the co-executive director of Trust Women which has clinics in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, has seen how one state banning care has ripple effects across the region. “People shouldn’t have to work so hard to access basic healthcare,” she told me, adding that she’s seeing people “drive eight hours for a pill or a 10-minute procedure.”

Trust Women can’t keep up with demand, Tong said. “Everyone is being delayed at least two weeks, but most likely more. We’re not easy to get a hold of right now. People have to call multiple, multiple times,” Tong said. As a result, people are getting their abortions later in pregnancy than they normally would, and it’s pretty apparent who the laws impact most. “It is very clear once you get into the clinic how racist these laws are,” she said. “Who’s left waiting to be seen because they’re further along, waiting for a surgical procedure, needing additional dilation…and who gets to come in early on in their pregnancy and get a medication abortion?”

Patients are also being pushed beyond the limits of when Tong’s clinics can see them. “They call us at 18 weeks after they’ve had [genetic] testing and by the time we’re able to see them, they’ll be too far along,” Tong said. Both Oklahoma and Kansas ban abortion after 20 weeks, so if people hit the limit they are forced to travel to a yet different state. “It’s affecting everyone. It’s definitely a massive ripple effect.”

Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn Roe in dramatic fashion, it has already signaled that it will allow states to continue chipping away at abortion access as they please. There’s a “continued erosion, so slow you don’t even notice,” Tong said. First, “it’s the people of Texas who have to leave their state in order to seek health care, then it’s the people of Oklahoma, then it’s this whole corridor in the center of our country.”

“The nation does not have the capacity for more states to fall.”

On another recent trip to work in Oklahoma City, Dr. Moayedi cared for people not just from Texas and Oklahoma, but also Kansas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. And soon, both Texans and Oklahomans will start displacing people elsewhere. “Just Texas shutting down has impacted the availability of appointments in all of the region,” she said. “The nation does not have the capacity for more states to fall.”

Tong agrees: “There’s no way for the current clinics to absorb what’s happening. The math does not work.”

And she can’t help but think of another crisis. “Our clinics feel like the island nations under climate change,” Tong said. “We’re trying to get all the lifeboats together, put on all the lifejackets. That’s how it feels right now—especially in this region as an independent abortion clinic—is that you’re floating out there alone, trying to see as many patients as possible, and there’s just not enough time and not enough resources.”

“Shit—we actually don’t have any control.”

Oklahoma’s only state-based abortion fund, the Roe Fund, doesn’t have enough resources either. Jan Massey, the fund’s treasurer, said that since SB 8 passed, they’ve doubled their pledges to low-income Oklahomans, but they’re still running out of money by the middle of the month. Because the clinics are booking up quickly, the fund has helped people travel to New Mexico, Colorado, and Arkansas. Arkansas is considering its own Texas-style, six-week ban, and the wave of traveling patients will keep rising.

Dr. Moayedi is trying to plan for this uncertain future. She now has medical licenses in 16 more states and is starting a private practice under the assumption that, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, Texas will outlaw abortion. She’ll do miscarriage management in Texas, provide telehealth abortion pills to people in other states, and do abortion procedures out of state.

It’s far from her original plan, as someone who went to medical school specifically to provide abortion care in Texas, but no one is coming to save her community, and she has to adapt.

“I don’t really think the rest of the nation can quite understand it until you’ve lived through it, to know what it’s like—it’s a desperate feeling, it’s a hopelessness,” she said. “And that reality is incredibly painful to know, like, ‘shit—we actually don’t have any control.’”

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