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OU history professor discusses Oklahoma abortion access in light of US Supreme Court decision overturning Louisiana law

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Supreme Court

This photo taken Friday, Oct. 3, 2014, shows the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. 

An OU professor responded with surprise and excitement to a Monday Supreme Court ruling striking down abortion restrictions in Louisiana, but pointed to the abortion-related challenges many Americans still face. 

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a 2014 Louisiana abortion law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. 

Jennifer Holland, assistant history professor and women and gender studies affiliate, said the Supreme Court decision was an unexpected victory for reproductive justice advocates. 

“I think that reproductive justice advocates thought the Louisiana law would be upheld,” Holland said. “There was also a lot of worry that (the Supreme Court) would move beyond that and overturn longer standing decisions maybe all the way back to (Roe v. Wade),” Holland said. 

Holland said part of the reason the ruling was so surprising was because Chief Justice John Roberts sided with more liberal justices due to a precedent the Supreme Court set by striking down an identical Texas law in 2016. Holland said many anti-abortion activists anticipated Chief Justice Roberts would side with conservative justices and work toward dismantling pro-choice laws like Roe v. Wade.

“Anti-abortion activists don’t want restrictions, they want absolute bans,” Holland said. “The only way to really get that is going to be through another justice."

Although the Supreme Court ruling represents a victory for reproductive justice advocates, Holland said the anti-abortion movement is still gaining momentum. Holland said abortion laws at the state level, especially in places like Oklahoma, are mainly conservative and promote anti-abortionist ideals. 

“The Supreme Court is going to remain the real issue for pro-choice people in staving off the state-by-state challenges,” Holland said. “The anti-abortion movement has been incredibly successful, not just at the presidential level, but at state levels at electing Republicans who really also care about limiting or making abortion illegal.” 

In February, the Senate Bill 13 rally outside the Oklahoma Capitol drew hundreds of supporters chanting “abolish abortion.” SB 13 was created to establish the Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act, according to the Oklahoma Legislature website, but it did not pass

“I don't think (the ruling) should overshadow the fact that abortion is already almost impossible to get in much of the United States, including Oklahoma,” Holland said, “and that these laws that the Supreme Court has upheld before now have made it very hard, and especially hard for poor women and women of color.”  

Holland said reproductive care is more readily available to women with privilege, time and money.

“Abortion is available to them simply because they can navigate the obstacle course that is getting an abortion in America right now,” Holland said. “So, even with this victory, it doesn't change that reality in Oklahoma and America.”

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