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Oklahoma AG clarifies exceptions for abortion patients and medical providers

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Oklahoma AG clarifies exceptions for abortion patients and medical providers

Nov 21, 2023 | 7:54 pm ET
By Carmen Forman
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Oklahoma AG clarifies exceptions for abortion patients and medical providers
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Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued guidance Tuesday clarifying the state's prohibition on abortion. Empty chairs are pictured inside the Oklahoma City Planned Parenthood clinic. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s attorney general said Tuesday that although state law prohibits most abortions, pregnant women cannot be punished for seeking out the procedure.

In response to a request from six GOP lawmakers, Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued a formal opinion clarifying that state law does not allow for pregnant women — even those who intentionally self-induce an abortion through medication or other means — to be charged with a crime.

Drummond also issued updated guidance detailing when medical professionals can treat a woman seeking an abortion and when someone can be charged with a crime for performing the procedure or advising a woman to seek an abortion.

Oklahoma law prohibits all abortions except those necessary to save the life of the mother. The state does not provide exceptions for abortions in instances of rape or incest.

Although Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has paused or rejected some of the state’s anti-abortion laws in recent months, those who illegally perform the procedure still face up to five years in prison.

In his guidance, Drummond directed district attorneys and law enforcement entities to prosecute anyone who intentionally performs or attempts an “elective” or “on-demand” abortion in the state.

But he added that medical professionals don’t need to wait until a pregnant woman is septic, bleeding profusely or near death to perform an abortion under the exception of saving that woman’s life. If a doctor reasonably determines that continued pregnancy will jeopardize a woman’s life, that is enough to trigger the exception, Drummond wrote in the guidance.

“Medical doctors, in particular, should be given substantial leeway to treat pregnant women experiencing life-threatening or emergency physical conditions, using their reasoned medical judgment, so long as they are not unnecessarily terminating the life of the unborn child or intentionally abusing their position to facilitate elective abortions,” Drummond wrote.

After being denied life-saving abortion, Oklahoma woman files hospital complaint

Medical professionals have expressed confusion over when it is legal to perform an abortion to save a woman’s life.

An Oklahoma woman previously filed a complaint against an Oklahoma City hospital system alleging she was turned away when she sought an abortion due to life-threatening pregnancy complications. She said she was told to wait in the hospital parking lot, and that physicians couldn’t perform the procedure until she was near death.

Drummond also specified that the state’s abortion ban does not apply to ectopic pregnancies, in vitro fertilization, other fertility treatments, emergency contraception or unintentional miscarriages and medical procedures that may be performed to address a miscarriage.

In the guidance, Drummond said state law prohibits someone from helping a woman obtain an unlawful abortion, which can include advising someone to seek out the procedure. He urged district attorneys and law enforcement to refrain from prosecuting people engaging in general advocacy in support of abortion.

“District attorneys and law enforcement may consider pursuing a case, however, where a person has advised or encouraged a woman to obtain an unlawful abortion in some imminent way, especially if the third party has taken an overt or tangible action toward that goal,” he wrote. When in doubt, Drummond urged prosecutors to contact his office.

The guidance released Tuesday is updated from what former Attorney General John O’Connor released after the state imposed a near-total abortion ban following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade.

The number of abortions performed in Oklahoma plummeted after GOP officials imposed the ban, but thousands of women have sought the procedure in neighboring states.