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The recent reversal of Roe v. Wade has fueled Republican legislators in Oklahoma to enact a series of stringent abortion bans, resulting in widespread confusion and fear among both doctors and patients.
For individuals like Jaci Statton, a 25-year-old woman from Meeker, Oklahoma, these restrictive measures can lead to life-threatening consequences.
Her pregnancy caused severe vaginal bleeding, dangerously high blood pressure, and extreme nausea, putting her at risk for internal bleeding, kidney and liver failure, and even a stroke. However, when she sought medical assistance, physicians at two separate Oklahoma hospitals informed her that they were unable to perform an abortion due to the state’s legislation.
Although they recognized the grave health risks, they claimed they were powerless to help. Consequently, Statton had no option but to make a 180-mile journey to a clinic in Wichita, Kansas, where she could finally receive the necessary care.
Study shows hospitals unclear on when or whether they can help pregnant woman in an emergency
Unfortunately, Statton’s experience is not unique. A recent study from three abortion rights organizations found that not a single hospital in Oklahoma could articulate clear, consistent policies for emergency obstetric care. Commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights, the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, the study discovered that hospital representatives “frequently demonstrated confusion,” with some callers receiving contradictory information from separate staff within the same hospital.
This confusion is compounded by discriminatory laws and policies that disproportionately impact marginalized communities. Black, Brown, and Indigenous women already face significant barriers to healthcare due to systemic racism, and these abortion bans only exacerbate the situation.The lack of clarity among hospitals not only frustrates patients but can also be deadly.
A history of horror
As a Black-owned media company based in Tulsa, we know all too well the history of reproductive oppression in this country. From forced sterilization to the exploitation of enslaved women’s bodies, reproductive justice has long been denied to Black women and other women from marginalized communities. We stand with Jaci Statton and all women who are fighting for their right to access safe and compassionate reproductive healthcare.
But this fight is not new. Forced sterilization of women from marginalized communities is a deeply troubling and traumatic aspect of Oklahoma’s history that has cast a long shadow over reproductive rights in the state. As late as the 1970s, tens of thousands of people across the United States, including many Black and Indigenous women, were subjected to federal and state policies of forced sterilization.
In Oklahoma, the state played a leading role in the eugenics movement, which sought to forcibly sterilize those deemed “unfit” to have children – whether through unfair and prejudiced determinations of being mentally unfit, impoverished (often due to state policy), or solely due to the woman being Indigenous.
The legacy of forced sterilization in Oklahoma has had long-lasting impacts on Indigenous communities, including the loss of future generations and the perpetuation of systemic inequalities. Today, Indigenous women in Oklahoma and across the country continue to face barriers to accessing reproductive healthcare, including abortion. These barriers are compounded by the ongoing effects of colonialism, racism, and sexism, which continue to shape the experiences of Indigenous women and their access to healthcare.
It is important to acknowledge this history and the ongoing harm it has caused, and to work towards creating a more just and equitable society where Black and Indigenous women have full autonomy over their bodies and access to the care they need.
The recent overturn of Roe v. Wade has only intensified the situation in Oklahoma. While exceptions for medical emergencies and to save the life of the pregnant person are included in the law, doctors across the state are still struggling with fear of prosecution when caring for women in need of lifesaving reproductive care.
Jaci Statton’s story is just one example of the devastating impact of these laws on women’s health and lives. Her condition was life-threatening, yet she was denied care in her home state. She was forced to travel hundreds of miles to receive the medical attention she needed, all because of the restrictive laws in place in Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma, where forced sterilization of marginalized communities is a part of its history, it’s especially important to draw the connection between the two issues. One must ask, at what point will the state recognize the harm it has caused in the past and work to dismantle the oppressive systems that continue to harm women today?