Scandalous Oklahoma abortion law: The saga continues

A law that would require the anonymous public sharing of patients' personal data is stayed -- for now

Published October 21, 2009 5:22PM (EDT)

OK news from Oklahoma: the scandalously transparent law we covered October 7, which requires the collection -- and "anonymous" public sharing -- of abortion patients' personal data, will, at least, not go into effect as scheduled on November 1. This delay should give anti-choice forces extra time to snip out some more scarlet As for the women of Oklahoma.

What's happened, as Dionne Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained it to Broadsheet today: The CRR, who filed suit against the law on behalf of two local women, requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the law from going into effect as the wrangling went on. In response, a judge set a hearing for October 30 -- and then, for reasons unclear, recused herself from the case. The new judge, Twyla Mason Gray of the Oklahoma County District Court, ignoring the TRO request itself, granted the state's request for an extension on that hearing, moving it to December 4. Yes: this would allow the law to be in effect for a month before anyone could order it restrained. (Indeed, CRR attorney Jennifer Mondino called the move "very unusual.") So the CRR, no doubt delighted to have found something to do with all the time on its hands, filed a motion opposing that extension and saying, "Also, about that TRO?" Result, late this Monday: Judge Gray kept the December 4 date -- this just for the TRO hearing, mind you -- but did stay the law for now.

Speaking of unusual, Oklahoma state law requires that parties requesting TROs post bond, in an amount to be determined by the presiding judge. Sounds weird, but here's the idea: since TROs or injunctions can be filed without the knowledge of the "injuncted" party, the surety is provided for as a source of compensation for any undue harm incurred as a result of the order. This is the weird part: Judge Gray has set bond for the CRR's TRO request at $25,000. That's a lot. Especially considering that the request was filed by two private citizens and a non-profit -- and that it's unclear what harm the state could suffer as a result. "Even in my own office people were confused and astonished," CRR's Mondino told Broadsheet.

So what's the deal with this judge? More digging TBD. (It should perhaps be noted for now that according to reports, Judge Gray was re-elected in 2006 despite the fact that more than a third of Oklahoma County's attorneys had rated her as not qualified for her post.)

Anyway. According to The Guttmacher Institute, 46 states require hospitals, doctors and clinics to submit confidential reports to the state. (Note: there's data, and there's "data." The approved Oklahoma questionnaire includes the term "partial birth abortion." Yep: "Data.") Only 15 states require information about a woman's reason for seeking the procedure. If this law goes into effect, Oklahoma will make it 16. "The Oklahoma bill takes all of the intrusive information from very personal questions and puts it all in one place," Elizabeth Nash, a state policy specialist for Guttmacher, told WomensENews -- that place being a public, searchable, Web site, offering enough personal data to identify women in small towns even without their names; sort of Oklahoma's abortion Facebook. "It's the most egregious."

CRR is working with former state Rep. Wanda Jo Stapleton and Lora Joyce Davis, a resident of Shawnee, OK. "Women in small towns can be identified by nosy neighbors or, equally important, they can be misidentified when the guessing games start," said Stapleton, who noted that (my gloss) the law constitutes a HIPAA violation the size of Tulsa. (Though as we reported earlier, the CRR lawsuit attacks the bill not with a giant HIPAA wrecking ball but on letter-of-the-law grounds proven effective in another Oklahoma abortion case last year.) "The bill points a public finger at women and is intended to scare them to death."

We'll see you here for an update on or around December 4. Meanwhile, the CRR is working with a surety company to come up with that bizarre court-ordered 25 large. Maybe help 'em out? 

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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