The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down two abortion bans last week by arguing that their language would allow the life of the mother to be at risk.
Thanks to a 1910 abortion ban that went back into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion is still mostly illegal in the state (and the carveout for the life of the mother exists). However the recent state Supreme Court decision reflects a trend that pro-abortion advocates may see as a path forward in paring back abortion restrictions.
The court took issue with two laws, one banning abortion after conception and the other after the detection of a heartbeat, both with civil enforcement. It struck down both laws, arguing that their descriptions of exceptions for the life and health of the mother were too vague and could be applied too sparingly.
Thomas Jipping of the Heritage Foundation explains that although “each [law] contained the ‘necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency’ language,” the court “held that this violated a woman’s right to an abortion that is necessary to preserve her life.” This parsing of language could become a new way for pro-abortion advocates to slowly push back against pro-life legislation.
A pro-abortion writer at Slate describes it this way: “The court’s decision suggests a kind of middle path for courts in red states to carve out limited, but real, protection for abortion and other pregnancy-related care—and to make abortion exceptions something more than political theater.”
This recent decision followed another one earlier this year by the Oklahoma Supreme Court on March 21, in which the court ruling remained similarly narrow, focusing just on a woman’s life and not “a right to an elective termination of pregnancy, i.e., one made outside of preserving the life of the pregnant woman.”
In light of this, Jipping argues that this language loophole could easily be fixed. The legislature “need only amend the more recent laws” with the 1910 law’s “preserve [the mother’s] life” language, he writes. “State Senator Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, who authored the bills struck down on Wednesday, has already called for legislative action.”