Judge delays Oklahoma plan to post abortion details online

An Oklahoma law would require women having an abortion to fill out an anonymous questionnaire, the results of which would be made public. A legal challenge to the law will be decided Feb. 19, a judge said Friday.

By , Staff writer

An Oklahoma judge Friday put off until Feb. 19 any decision about an anti-abortion law that critics have said is “like undressing a woman in public.”

The law, which was to have gone into effect on Nov. 1, requires doctors performing abortions to ask the patient 37 questions – from her age to her marital status and financial condition – which would then be posted on a public website.

Supporters of the bill say the information is crucial to understanding why women have abortions. Opponents say the questions are invasive and the public posting of the answers could easily lead to women being identified in rural parts of the state, even though their names are not used.

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Lora Joyce Davis, one of the women bringing the lawsuit, told ABC: “It's like undressing women in public, exposing their most personal issues on the Internet.”

Oklahoma's aims

The Oklahoma Legislature is quickly becoming one of the most stringently antiabortion statehouses in America. Indeed, some experts suggest it is becoming a laboratory for potential federal antiabortion law, drawing a comparison between Oklahoma’s new laws and the Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban that was struck down by the Supreme Court before being made federal law by Congress.

“Expect these Oklahoma laws and the ensuing court decisions to be the first rather than last word on how far a state may go with respect to compulsory procedures and reporting requirements,” Joseph Thai, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, told AP.

Many states have abortion-reporting requirements, but abortion providers in Oklahoma say the new law in their state goes further than any other, according to NPR. It is only the most recent example of the Oklahoma Legislature taking a prevalent practice and pushing it to new levels.

Ultrasound as anti-abortion tool

The Oklahoma courts are also considering a law that would require all women having an abortion to submit to an ultrasound in which the doctor would discuss in detail the development of the fetus. A district court overturned that law, but the state is appealing to the state supreme court.

Many states have passed laws in recent years that seek to make ultrasounds more available to women considering abortions. “Ultrasound laws are part of a larger ‘pro-life’ movement aimed at requiring more pre-abortion counseling and longer waiting periods designed to convince women not to end their pregnancies,” according to an article last year by Stateline.org, the daily online publication of the Pew Center on the States.

'Unprecedented pro-life success'

Oklahoma is emerging as a leader in this regard. “Oklahoma has seen unprecedented pro-life success in its legislature since Republicans gained a majority in the House in the 2004 elections,” the National Right to Life News reported in 2008. “These laws have included many important pro-life provisions, involving parental consent, informed consent, crisis pregnancy counseling, unborn victims of violence, state involvement in abortion, legal definition of abortion, and much more.”

For instance, two years ago, Oklahoma barred public funds from being used in abortions. “The effect has been to prevent virtually all hospitals in the state from carrying out terminations because they are unable to prove that some part of the procedure has not been subsidized by public money,” The Guardian reports, suggesting that about 96 percent of the state's counties have no abortion provider.

The reporting and ultrasound laws have been challenged on the grounds that they cover more then one subject. In Oklahoma, each law can only cover one subject, and these laws were rolled into larger bills. But members of the legislature told AP that they would merely introduce the laws in separate bills next year if they were struck down legally.

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