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New Oklahoma anti-abortion laws on hold

Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma State Capitol

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has enjoined implementation of three Oklahoma anti-abortion laws from 2021 following a legal challenge.


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. The state Supreme Court has issued an injunction to prevent three anti-abortion laws passed in 2021 from going into effect. The court directed the district court considering the constitutionality of those laws to also enjoin implementation. Shawn, this will make five anti-abortion laws that the courts have stopped. It's hard to keep up with Oklahoma abortion law from one day to another. So where does Oklahoma stand on abortion right now?

Shawn Ashley: The bottom line remains abortion essentially is illegal in Oklahoma. Now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in March that the Oklahoma Constitution protects the limited right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life. The court defined that to mean a woman “has an inherent right to terminate a pregnancy if at any point in the pregnancy, the woman's physician determines to a reasonable degree of medical certainty or probability that the continuation of the pregnancy will endanger the woman's life due to the pregnancy itself, or a condition that the woman is suffering or likely to suffer as a result of the pregnancy.” The court noted absolute certainty is not required, however, the mere possibility or speculation is sufficient. Now, as you mentioned, it's very confusing. And as we've seen in other publications and broadcasts, this has led to an unwillingness of the medical community to perform abortions even until the absolute last moment when a mother's life is threatened.

Dick Pryor: Are lawmakers doing anything to address the confusion and the hardships they've created?

Shawn Ashley: Lawmakers were expected to consider a bill during the 2023 regular session that would have addressed some of those concerns. That bill, however, was not taken up before the legislature adjourned Sine Die. It simply did not make its way out of conference committee where it was being written. It's something the legislature could take up quickly, though, when they reconvene in 2024.

Dick Pryor: There's also confusion over a law passed last year that implemented by the state treasurer, Todd Russ. The law prohibits banks and investment firms that have policies that the state construes as “boycotting” the energy industry from doing business with the state. Implementation of this law has proven to be difficult.

Shawn Ashley: The law's implementation starts in State Treasurer Todd Russell, his office, and he surveyed banks and investment firms to produce a blacklist, if you will, of institutions prohibited from doing business with the state because Russ determined they were boycotting the energy industry. That list currently includes four banks and two investment firms. The bill also requires state pension systems to stop doing business with any of the firms on the blacklist, unless doing so would negatively impact the system's returns.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System's Board of Trustees voted in August, for example, to claim that exemption to avoid divesting more than 60% of its funds from BlackRock. At an interim study in October, lawmakers expressed concerns about some of the decisions Russ made in implementing the law. Some that they considered arbitrary. Russ, for example, said he distinguished between the investment and banking operations of some of the large banks on the list, and that permits a couple of them to continue to provide banking services to the state, but prohibits the state and its agencies from using their investment services. Russ said he also considered the share of an investment firm’s investments in fossil fuels in determining which companies were placed on the restricted list. Russ said some firms claim they were not boycotting fossil fuels but held very few investments in the sector.

Dick Pryor: A House committee just finished two interim studies looking at ways for Oklahoma to diversify its economy and attract and retain people to live and work in the state. What did the committee hear about challenges Oklahoma is facing?

Shawn Ashley: Cynthia Reed, senior vice president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, shared research conducted by her organization in August on the perception employers and employees have of Oklahoma City. Reid said they asked site consultants to give their perceptions of Oklahoma City. They said it's gotten better. They're surprised by how much workers like it. It's dynamic for a small town. But Reid noted, “so to them, we are a small town, which is an interesting turn of phrase.” Reed also said there were negative comments like the lack of direct flights, “it’s a second-rate Nashville,” and some questioned the quality of labor and said that Oklahoma was too conservative politically.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor:  For more information, go to quorumcall.online and you can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

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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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