The first abortion clinic to open in Oklahoma City in more than forty years began seeing patients September 10.
The opening comes at a timely moment in Oklahoma history. Recently, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a new law that would have placed new restrictions on abortion providers. The law included heavier inspections for abortion providers and stronger criminal penalties for providers in violation of abortion statutes.
Despite legal setbacks, the chief executive officer of Trust Women, Julie Burkhart, said she wants to increase access to reproductive healthcare in the state of Oklahoma.
“As of about two years ago, the provider in Oklahoma City closed. Before that there were only three providers in the state, so access was limited in the state,” Burkhart said. “Especially in a metropolitan area as large as Oklahoma City, it is critical for women to have access to proper health care.”
Oklahoma City was one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country to not have an abortion provider.
Burkhart said the low numbers of obstetric and gynaecological care in Oklahoma, has affected the health care of Oklahoma women.
“If you look at the number of women per OB/GYN, in the state of Oklahoma it is one physician to 18,000 women,” she said. “That is a totally unmanageable annual patient load. People are not able to access the health care they need.”
A 2014 report by the Center of Reproductive Rights, said Oklahoma had the highest number of abortion restrictions in the country, tied with Kansas and Mississippi. After individual state abortion restrictions were analyzed, the study compared the number of restrictions to the overall wellbeing of women in each state. The three states with the worst overall well-being scores were Oklahoma, Kansas, and Mississippi.
Oklahoma Center for Reproductive Rights board member Annie Norman sees the opening as helpful for women’s healthcare. “Increasing access is a good thing, because if you flip it, decreased access means increased risks to women’s safety and well being,” she said. “The fact is, women will do almost anything to avoid becoming or staying pregnant.”
Norman said states that have the least restrictive abortion policies, women and children are better off overall in terms of their health and well being. “That really tells me that when women have access to abortion care, they’ll also have access to other services,” she said.
OCRJ Board President Karolyn Chowning outlined the challenges of abortion access in Oklahoma. “The greatest challenges to abortion access are cost and stigma,” Chowning said. “Federal and state restrictions prevent any public or private insurance from covering the cost of abortion care, and even folks who are able to receive help from the state’s only abortion fund still typically must pay several hundred dollars in a short amount of time.”
Even more challenging to address than funding, she said, are the personal issues. “How does a pregnant person in Oklahoma know who they can talk to about their feelings and options without losing that relationship? Can you talk to someone in your family without this coming up at the family reunion? Can you talk to your friends, your primary care provider, your faith leaders?”
Though the clinic has received some support, Trust Women has also faced opposition from protesters and nearby businesses.
“We had some neighbors who were trying to rally people in opposition to us, that were quite unhappy that we moved in. We also had protesters that started to come out to the clinic during construction, they were coming into the building and trespassing, and protesting outside of course,” Burkhart said. “We continue to have protesters on a daily basis at the clinic.”
Burkhart said she saw the clinic as a step in the right direction for Oklahoma.
“Just because women might live in a more conventional, traditional, conservative state, it doesn’t mean that you don’t also, at times, need access to reproductive health care or abortion care,” she said. “Just because the politics are more conservative and right wing doesn’t mean we don’t need good health care.”
Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center is located at 1240 SW 44th St in Oklahoma City, Okla.