A Minor Victory for Choice in Oklahoma

What Women Really Think
Dec. 31 2009 10:30 AM

A Minor Victory for Choice in Oklahoma

As Hanna wrote in October, Oklahoma anti-choicers discovered a clever new way to rob women of their reproductive rights. Under the guise of policy research, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill requiring women seeking an abortion to complete a 37-question autobiographical survey, the results of which would be posted on a publicly accessible Web site. Critics of the new measure argue that the first eight questions could easily identify women living in the state’s more sparsely populated rural regions and discourage them from undergoing the procedure out of fear of public shame, harassment, or retaliatory violence.

This time the abortion foes’ savvy subterfuge backfired. In order to prevent the law from taking effect, the Center for Reproductive Justice filed a temporary restraining order and launched a lawsuit alleging that the bill’s wide-ranging provisions violate the state’s "single-subject rule," which prohibits prospective laws from addressing more than one issue. Although all of the clauses of House Bill 1595 pertain broadly to the subject of abortion, the Center argues that the creation of a brand new job for the Department of Health and the seemingly random inclusion of a ban on gender selection render the initiative invalid. An Oklahoma district judge recently decided to extend the restraining order until Feb. 19, when the court will rule on the merits of the case.

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Despite the preliminary success of this dilatory tactic, some feminists lament that the Center’s complaint attacks the legislation on procedural, rather than substantive, grounds, and does not address the fundamental affront to women’s health and privacy. Even if a judge tosses out the new law, there is nothing stopping lawmakers from drafting a similar, more narrowly focused bill. Defeating the law on substantive grounds should not have been difficult. As some have pointed out, the purported goal of gathering information is bogus at best, as the data would be inappropriate for academic research . Moreover, the identifying details in women’s responses likely qualify as "protected health information" under HIPAA and cannot be made available to the public. Perhaps most importantly, publishing this kind of data tacitly incites vigilantism by Christian fundamentalists. In Operation Rescue country, women identified as abortion recipients don’t simply risk losing health coverage-they risk losing their lives and livelihoods.