In Oklahoma, Your Anti-Choice Parents Will Be Able to Sue Your Abortion Provider

In their rush to ascribe nefarious motives to abortion providers, Oklahoma Republicans passed a law to remedy a problem that doesn’t exist.

[Photo: An older, white mom raises her arms in frustration at her daughter during a dispute.]
Under the “Unborn Person Wrongful Death Act,” the would-be parents and grandparents can file a lawsuit against an abortion provider alleging the wrongful death of an egg, embryo, or fetus. Shutterstock

If you live in Oklahoma and get an abortion, your mom or dad—as well as the person who impregnated you—will be able to sue your abortion provider for wrongful death if they disapprove of your choice.

That’s thanks to an Oklahoma law melodramatically entitled “Unborn Person Wrongful Death Act,” set to go into effect November 1. Under this ridiculous law, the would-be parents and grandparents can file a lawsuit against an abortion provider alleging the wrongful death of an egg, embryo, or fetus.

That should make for spirited conversation at the Thanksgiving table, don’t you think?

“Surely they can’t sue if I wanted the abortion,” you might be thinking to yourself, to which I respond, “Adorable.” Look at you being all cute and reasonable thinking Oklahoma Republicans haven’t completely lost the plot. It doesn’t matter how a pregnant person feels about controlling their own body, silly.

Even if you wanted the abortion, your mom and dad could sue. Even if you write a New York Times bestseller entitled I Got an Abortion and I Liked It: No Seriously, It Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me, the person who impregnated you can file a wrongful death lawsuit against your doctor.

The Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature passed the law last week ostensibly to reduce the number of “fraudulent abortions,” but it is a nonsense law that doesn’t reflect the realities of abortion care.

State Sen. David Bullard (R-District 6), the brain trust behind this pointless law, said the bill will allow parents and grandparents of unborn children to seek damages against a physician if consent is gained through fraudulent means.

According to the press release, “if the woman is coerced, inebriated, given falsified information, or if the physician does not disclose the physical and/or psychological harms that will be caused by the abortion, the physician may be sued.”

Bullard claims this law will reduce abortions. “When women and families choose to use this power to make Oklahoma an abortion desert, countless innocent lives will be saved,” he said in the release.

But it won’t because Oklahoma already forbids coerced abortions. In 2010, Oklahoma passed a comprehensive informed consent law that requires abortion providers to obtain written certification from pregnant patients confirming they voluntarily consent to the abortion. As part of that law, abortion providers are required to offer specific information to the patients, some of which is exactly the same as the information required in the new “fraudulent abortion” law.

Violations of Oklahoma’s informed consent law carries stiff penalties, including civil liability and punitive damages. I fail to see how piling on penalties under the guise of a wrongful death claim is going to reduce the number of so-called fraudulent abortions. Even if Republican fever dreams come true and there are one day rogue abortion doctors running rampant through the state—aborting everything in sight, their patients’ wishes be damned—adding another cause of action for wrongful death isn’t going to fix things.

But that’s not the point of the new law.

The point is to heap more regulations and rules on already embattled abortion providers and to further demonize them by suggesting that the services they provide are somehow fraudulent. And such a suggestion is sure to stir up even more violence against abortion providers—as if being an abortion provider in the climate isn’t frightening enough.

But setting aside the fact that the law is pointless and will likely increase clinic violence, it also throws rape survivors and survivors of familial sexual assault under the bus. The law doesn’t even contemplate that the would-be grandparent and the would-be parent might be the same person. The law ignores that a person might get an abortion and want to hide it from their parents because one of their parents is a rapist or otherwise abusive. There is no exception for rape anywhere in the law.

It does contain an exception for coercion: If the person who wants to file a wrongful death suit under the law “coerced the mother of the unborn person to abort the unborn person,” then that person is not permitted to file a claim for wrongful death.

But they are if they’re a rapist.

In their rush to ascribe nefarious motives to abortion providers in Oklahoma, Republicans passed a law to remedy a problem that doesn’t exist. Abortion providers in Oklahoma are not coercing pregnant people into getting abortions and ignoring standards of care to do so. In fact, most people who get abortions don’t regret it. But that doesn’t matter to Bullard and his cohort of legislative dullards. They’ve passed a law that sticks it to providers, and in doing so, they’ve also stuck it to survivors.

Good luck convincing Oklahoma Republicans to care about that.