Mike Brake | March 2, 2021
Legislation could safeguard ‘reproductive justice,’ OU panelists say
Abortion supporters who are concerned that a 6-3 conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade are considering efforts to codify abortion access through congressional legislation or even a constitutional amendment, participants in a University of Oklahoma event said on February 25.
The virtual webinar, “Take Root Oklahoma: Symposium on Reproductive Justice,” was sponsored by the Center for Social Justice, a center in OU’s Department of Women's and Gender Studies.
“There has been talk about potentially passing legislation that would protect abortion rights across the country,” said Julie Burkhart, operator of an Oklahoma City abortion clinic.
Jennifer Holland, an OU professor “specializing in histories of gender, sexuality, and race in the twentieth-century North American West,” added that abortion supporters might also consider the constitutional amendment route.
Both were responding to a question about how the Biden administration would be more friendly to abortion supporters. The wide-ranging discussion also included Elyse Singer, an anthropology assistant professor at OU, and Danielle Williams, a board member of Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice.
Holland, who teaches courses titled “The Birds and the Bees: A History of Sex and Reproduction in America” and “U.S. Queer History,” according to her university biographical page, was also vocal about what she claimed was misinformation by crisis pregnancy centers, which generally seek to steer women away from abortion in favor of options like adoption.
“There are three times as many crisis pregnancy centers as abortion providers,” Holland said. In 2017 there were just six abortion clinics in Oklahoma, Holland said, as opposed to 48 crisis pregnancy centers, which she accused of “emotional manipulation.”
One danger of those centers, Holland claimed, was convincing women who had abortions that “their bodies and mental health had been damaged.” Those women, she said, are “often vulnerable” and are enticed to testify before state legislatures in support of laws restricting abortion.
Williams said legislators in many states like Oklahoma are “bold and brazen” in proposing abortion restrictions this year. She said her group has responded by publishing a booklet titled “How to Get an Abortion in Oklahoma.”
There were no panelists from the pro-life point of view. Singer announced at the outset that the program was “designed to celebrate reproductive justice.” The symposium was promoted in the February 2021 edition of “Diversity on Campus,” an electronic newsletter distributed by OU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Burkhart said it took two and a half years to open her Oklahoma City clinic, which she said is the only one in the state that “sees patients up to the legal limit.”
The panelists were critical of pending legislation that would require abortions to be performed by specialists in the field of obstetrics and gynecology and that would mandate that abortion facilities be confined to accredited hospitals. Burkhart said family practice physicians perform the abortions at her facility.
Singer, who said she has studied abortion in Mexico, said that 20 of 38 Mexican states have banned or limited the procedure, forcing women to travel to Mexico City.
Burkhart said those opposed to abortion “drive me a little nuts,” noting that one clinic she was associated with was vandalized on the night in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected president. Still, she said, “We must work in politically hostile areas. These are not states to be written off.”
Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.