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Gov. Kevin Stitt supports abortion restrictions on rape victims. Critics say he doesn’t understand the trauma those victims will face

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Gov. Kevin Stitt appears on Fox News Sunday, May 15, 2022.

After Gov. Kevin Stitt endorsed the state’s abortion restrictions on rape victims, critics have said he and other supporters have downplayed the trauma and harm the laws cause — all for political gain.

Stitt delivered an interview on Fox News Sunday. The interviewer, host Shannon Bream, noted that recent restriction laws, such as Senate Bill 1503, contain no exceptions for rape victims. They cut off abortion access once cardiac activity can be detected. That usually takes about 6 weeks — meaning many won’t even know they’re pregnant before the clock runs out.

Bream asked what Stitt would tell Oklahomans who have been raped and impregnated.

“That’s super, super hard, and we’re going to do everything we can to help them,” he said. “But aborting that child, we don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”

He said allowing rape victims to seek abortions is “killing one to protect the other,” and the victims instead need to be connected with adoption services.

SB 1503 is known as a copycat bill because it mirrors the law Texas passed last year. After it went into effect in September, there was a surge of Texans coming to Oklahoma for abortion care. Planned Parenthood Great Plains’ interim president and CEO, Emily Wales, said the clinics in Oklahoma have already served Texans who were raped and impregnanted.

“We’ve already been doing that now for months with Texans, who in many cases thought that they did have exceptions,” she said. “They were shocked to learn when they went to get care locally that they were not covered, that there was no reason that they would be exempt from the law in Texas. So we’ve had patients come to us and say, ‘I’ve been in this awful situation, can you please help me?’’ And now we’re going to have to say, ‘No, we can’t.’”

She and the other critics all made the same point: When someone is raped, an abuser takes their bodily autonomy from them. Something is inside their body without their consent. They said requiring victims to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term continues that violation and the removal of bodily autonomy, and that it re-traumatizes them.

Wales noted that during the Fox News Sunday segment, the interviewer listed some statistics to Stitt — that more than one in five children live under the poverty line, and that the state ranks 42nd for overall child well-being. Bream asked what Oklahoma plans to do to help women and children in the wake of abortion restrictions.

“Here’s the deal, is the answer to the socialist Democrat left to abort poor kids?” he said. “That’s just ridiculous, to even quote those type of stats. We have a free market in Oklahoma. We believe that God has a special plan for every single life.”

She said those statistics are relevant to the conversation.

“They are statistics about what it means to be poor and either a child or a woman in the state of Oklahoma,” Wales said.

Wales and other critics said that wealthier and middle-class Oklahomans will be able to travel to seek abortions, so the restrictions in effect apply only to those with little money or who are otherwise vulnerable.

Another vulnerability: an abuser who would insist on co-parenting. Tamya Cox-Touré is the Executive Director of ACLU Oklahoma and the co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. She said Oklahoma allows rape victims to terminate their abusers’ parental rights, but that requires police reports and other proof that the victim has been raped — which is considerably more difficult if the abuser is a family member or intimate partner.

“Governor Stitt fails to recognize the trauma that happens when people are forced to carry pregnancies and then have to co-parent with their abuser,” Cox-Touré said.

She said the lack of exceptions indicates little concern for rape survivors, but that the exceptions themselves often don’t help victims as much as they could. Like terminating parental rights, getting an exemption from abortion restrictions because of rape also requires proof, such as a police investigation, she said, and victims of ongoing abuse typically feel they don’t have the support or resources necessary to report the violence.

“This is this is exactly the type of danger that we talk about when we talk about why abortion bans should not happen,” she said.

State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, has been an outspoken critic of the governor’s abortion policy. He said Stitt and other conservative leaders in the state are having to compete with other anti-abortion politicians to make a name for themselves nationally, which requires escalations in the restrictions.

“For the longest time, most of our abortion bills that came through the state Legislature all had carve outs for rape and incest,” he said. “So this is a whole new ballgame now.”

He said given the recent string of scandals — from accusations of fraud in the tourism department in its deal with a chain of Swadley’s barbecue restaurants, concerns about fraud and mismanagement in COVID relief funds for schools, an audit confirming millions of dollars in waste and poor procurement practices regarding personal protective equipment at the pandemic’s onset and more — Stitt is relying on amped up abortion restrictions to shore up conservative support.

StateImpact sent Stitt’s office a paraphrased list of the concerns raised in this story — that Stitt didn’t understand how removing access to abortions would re-traumatize rape victims, how vulnerable victims may not have the means necessary to report rapes and terminate the abuser’s parental rights, that he didn’t acknowledge poor health outcomes or pitch policies to improve the lives of low-income women and children in the state, and that the bills are simply being used to distract from recent scandals. Press Secretary Kate Vesper responded with the following statement:

“As a father of six, Governor Stitt believes that all life is sacred and he will continue to unwaveringly defend the rights of the unborn. Governor Stitt has compassion for women and families who face hardships associated with pregnancy and believes that instead of killing one to protect the other, we should instead choose to have communities, non-profits, churches, and the state come together and provide health care and adoption services.”

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Catherine Sweeney grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University. She has covered local, state and federal government for outlets in Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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