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Latest State-Level Attack on Reproductive Rights Takes Aim at Safe Medical Procedure

Oklahoma most recent state to move forward controversial ban on widely accepted process used during second trimester abortions

The Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City. (Photo: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia/cc)

The Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City. (Photo: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia/cc)

The latest offensive against reproductive rights just gained new ground in Oklahoma, where the GOP-dominated state legislature on Wednesday passed a controversial ban on a medical procedure that doctors say is critical to performing safe abortions during the second trimester.

HB 1721 (pdf) takes aim at the dilation and evacuation process, commonly known as D and E, which is used during second trimester abortions, as well as following miscarriages. The legislation, which was approved by the House 37-4 after passing the Senate 84-2 in February, imposes a ban on this procedure in the context of abortion, except in some cases of serious risk to the pregnant person.

The bill now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Mary Fallin, a vocal opponent of reproductive rights.

Based on a legislative model from the National Right to Life Committee, the measure passed over fierce opposition from medical professionals and reproductive justice advocates. Sponsors and proponents have used inflammatory language to promote the bill, including calling it the "Dismemberment Abortion Act" and, as RH Reality Check reporter Teddy Wilson points out, even invoking the Holocaust on the House floor.

But opponents charge that the legislation amounts, quite simply, to the denial of medical care—and basic rights.

"Every pregnant woman faces unique circumstances, challenges, and potential complications," said Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (OCRJ). "We must trust each woman to make the decisions that are right for her, and enable her to get the care she needs according to the best medical counsel — not the agendas of politicians who presume to know better."

According to the OCRJ, nearly nine out of ten people seeking to terminate a pregnancy do so before the second trimester.

"But women who do need services after the first trimester of pregnancy deserve safe, legal care based on the best medical counsel—not politicians who presume to know better," the organization states. "The politicians who are advancing HB 1721 are the very same ones advancing measure after measure to deny women access to care earlier, when the vast majority of women facing an unintended pregnancy seek it and need it most."

Responding to this and similar proposals in other states, Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "Even if we disagree about abortion, I’d hope we can all agree it’s better a doctor can provide the safest medical care. And I’d hope we can agree that politicians shouldn’t be preventing a doctor from providing what he or she thinks is the best medical care, period."

There are signs, however, that the Oklahoma bill represents a new front in a state-level effort to chip away abortion rights.

On Tuesday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a similar bill targeting the dilation and evacuation procedure, and parallel legislation has been proposed in Missouri, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

"If the NRLC has its way, similar bills will be introduced in every U.S. state, the group has said," the Guardian warns. "The anti-abortion movement has made significant gains at the state level, especially after conservatives swept the 2010 midterm elections and used their new-found grasp over statehouses to push a flurry of legislation that chips away at abortion rights."

In recent years, lawmakers at the state level have dramatically slashed access to reproductive health care, despite the fact that the majority of people in the United States support the right to choose.

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