On Wednesday, every licensed physician in the state of Oklahoma received an email from the Oklahoma Medical Board reminding them about HB 1409, a law requiring all doctors either performing an abortion or referring their patient to abortion services, to obtain “informed consent” at least 72 hours before the abortion is performed, even if the physician doesn’t perform abortions herself.

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“Informed consent” laws for abortion aren’t unusual; Texas, for example, hands abortion-seeking people a pink-tinted booklet filled with pictures of fetuses and a completely untrue suggestion that abortion can cause breast cancer. But the language in the Oklahoma email is extraordinarily broad, reminding doctors that “all licensed physicians, or any agents of the licensed physician” are required by state law to provide informed consent information “to every woman asking about or receiving information about abortion.”

The email adds that failure to refer a woman to that information “can result in the licensed physician being liable for civil action, brought by the woman or her guardian, for actual damages and punitive damages.” It then directs doctors seeking more information about the law to an aggressively pro-life, clearly medically-unsound website called “A Woman’s Right.”

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Jezebel received a copy of the email from a doctor in the state who was confused why she would be getting such a propagandistic email from the state licensing board. It turns out, they are only doing the job that their state legislature is forcing them to do.

“The law requires the medical board to host that website and update it’s content,” said the board’s Deputy Director Reji Varghese on a phone call with Jezebel.

When asked if the medical board stands behind the content on the website, Varghese replied, “It’s basically what’s in the law. It just summarizes what’s in the law. The information is up-to-date as to what the law says, and the law requires us to put those pictures in there... Everything that you see on the website is a requirement of the law.”

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The law, which was passed in May of 2015, requires that any woman seeking an abortion certify in writing that she has been given a slew of information designed to discourage the woman from going through with the procedure, including “medical risks associated with the particular abortion procedure,” “the probable gestational age of the unborn child,” and that “ultrasound imagine and heart tone monitoring that enable the pregnant woman to view her unborn child or listen to the heartbeat of the unborn child are available to the pregnant woman.” The site also claims that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, which isn’t true. The doctor performing the abortion is also obligated to confirm that all the above information has been made available.

The law also obligates any doctor to make the contents of the aforementioned website available to the patient. Additionally, any facility that performs abortions in the state is obligated to to include an easily-identifiable link to the website, reading: “The State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision maintains a website containing information about the development of the unborn child, as well as video of ultrasound images of the unborn child at various stages of development. The Board’s website can be reached by clicking here: www.awomansright.org.”

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In 2011, 96 percent of Oklahoma counties had no abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In that year, there were only five abortion providers in the entire state.

Update: According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, there are now only two abortion clinics in Oklahoma.


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

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Image via A Woman’s Right.