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What does the vote to affirm personal autonomy rights in Kansas tell us about the future of abortion law in Oklahoma?

Abortion-rights supporters cheer as the proposed Kansas constitutional amendment that would allow abortion restrictions in the state fails. They were watching election results at the Kansas for Constitutional Freedom watch party in Overland Park on Tuesday night.
AFP via Getty Images
Abortion-rights supporters cheer as the proposed Kansas constitutional amendment that would allow abortion restrictions in the state fails. They were watching election results at the Kansas for Constitutional Freedom watch party in Overland Park on Tuesday night.

Oklahoma has some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the nation, and an upcoming court ruling may help determine whether a Kansas-like Constitutional right to personal autonomy, including the decision to obtain an abortion, also exists in Oklahoma.


Capitol Insider sponsored by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, keeping Oklahoma physicians informed about advances in medical technologies, treatments and aftercare. More on the vision and mission of OSMA @okmed.org.

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. As weeks go, the last one was fairly quiet at the state Capitol. Shawn, what should we take away from the last few days in Oklahoma government?

Shawn Ashley: Well, fiscal year 2022, which ended June 30th, was a very good year for the state. General revenue fund collections were more than enough to fill the state's Rainy Day Fund, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported on Wednesday. Collections topped the estimate by $1.9 billion or 2.83%. And that meant $575.7 million was deposited in the Rainy Day Fund, the maximum that could be put there. The funds balance is now $1.1 billion, the highest it's ever been. And combined with cash on hand and other reserve funds, the state now has $2.8 billion in savings.

Dick Pryor: So, things are setting up pretty well. Now, let's talk about our neighbors to the north - Kansas. On Tuesday, Kansas voters rejected a constitutional amendment proposed by their legislature that said there was no right to abortion in the state constitution. Similar constitutional amendments have been proposed in Oklahoma, Shawn, but have not made it to the ballot. The legal situation in Oklahoma, however, is different than in Kansas. How so?

Shawn Ashley: By rejecting the proposed constitutional amendment, Kansas voters affirmed what their Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the Kansas State Constitution protects the right of personal autonomy. This right, the court wrote, allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body health, family formation and family life -decisions that include whether to continue a pregnancy. But Oklahoma's Supreme Court has yet to make a similar decision. As Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat noted in May, abortion rights groups have argued Oklahoma’s State Constitution protects personal autonomy and that there is a right to abortion in the state constitution, but the court has never used that as the basis for its rulings. So, like you said, the situation in Oklahoma today is different than it was in Kansas.

Dick Pryor: But that could change.

Shawn Ashley: It certainly could. A lawsuit filed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court that challenges the state's latest abortion legislation raises the question of whether the state constitution guarantees a right to abortion. The lawsuit cites two provisions of the Oklahoma Constitution. Those provisions, the lawsuit states, provide a greater degree of protection for the right to abortion than any found in the U.S. Constitution.

Dick Pryor: When will the Oklahoma Supreme Court decide that case?

Shawn Ashley: The case is still in its early stages. The petitioners have until September 1st to file briefs in the case, and the state of Oklahoma has until September 21st to respond. Any additional replies after that are due no later than October 1st. At that point, the Oklahoma Supreme Court could decide the case based solely on the briefs, which really would be unlikely. Or it could order a hearing before a referee or the full court. That means the decision could come in October at the earliest, but probably later in the year.

Dick Pryor: We don't know how Oklahoma voters would respond to a state question saying there is not a right to abortion in the state constitution. But there is interesting precedent to consider here.

Shawn Ashley: There really is. In 2016, the legislature asked Oklahoma voters essentially to overturn the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision that the Ten Commandments monument, then at the state Capitol, violated the state constitution’s prohibition against using public money or property for the benefit of any religious purpose. Lawmakers passed a resolution putting State Question 790 on the ballot, which would have repealed that section of the constitution. But voters rejected that proposal in that year's general election. In what has been called the buckle of the Bible Belt, voters said they did not want government and religion to mix and maintained that provision in the constitution. And I think that shows something kind of interesting. Oklahoma voters did in 2016 what Kansas voters did Tuesday - they affirmed the decision of their state Supreme Court. So, however, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rules in the abortion case before it, and whether a resulting referendum asked voters to uphold or reject that decision, could be a major factor in the outcome of any ballot measure.

Dick Pryor: Yeah, voters like their independence, and sometimes they surprise us with a different take than we expect.

Shawn Ashley: Exactly. That's why we have elections.

Dick Pryor: Yes, it is. Thanks, Shawn. If you have questions, e-mail them to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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