Oklahoma Law Poses Serious Privacy Threat to Women Obtaining Abortions
A new law, HB 1595, is set to take effect that could potentially seriously compromise the privacy (and safety) of women seeking abortions in that state. The law deals in part with collection of data about abortion in the state via an Individual Abortion Form which asks providers a number of questions about the details of the procedure and the woman requesting it.
The law requires that the State Department of Health make the form available on its website to abortion providers, and that providers complete a form for each department and submit it to the State Department of Health. This in itself is not so problematic, as many states have this type of surveillance in place. Collecting this type of data, and reporting it in aggregate, allows us to know things that run contrary to popular myths about abortion, such as that ~60% of U.S. women who have abortions are already mothers.
Proponents of the bill have described it as an attempt to find out whether “Complications of abortion…and the magnitude of abortions’ toll on women’s health and well-being” is “truly known.”
What’s not necessary for such data gathering, however, is that each individual form be posted to a publicly available website. The law requires that “The Department shall post the Individual Abortion form to its stable Internet website.” While it does contain provisions that the form not include an individual woman’s name or address, making each patient-specific form available to the public is not needed for simply understanding the reasons women have abortions and the characteristics and outcomes of women who have abortions – those can be tallied and summarized by trained public health and statistics people and reported in aggregate as are the CDC’s abortion surveillance data. In fact, Oklahoma has had an abortion surveillance program in place since 2000, and has itself reported some of the demographic data about women obtaining abortions in that state, but – importantly – that state data is compiled rather than individual.
A reasonable woman in a small community might reasonably fear that the provided information, including the date of the procedure, her county, age, race, marital status, level of education, provided reason, whether she’s an emancipated minor or had a specific, named life-endangering condition, physician name and other details could be combined and interpreted to make reasonable guesses about who a form applies to. Protesters/anti-abortion activists could make linking the two much easier simply by showing up at clinics on abortion day and recording identifying information about people on those dates.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between this law and efforts in my own state to require death certificates for each abortion, as they’re both moves pushed by anti-abortion legislators and carry the implied threat of public exposure/shaming as a deterrent to abortion. The option to collect the supposedly desired data on complications and reasons for abortion without potentially violating each woman’s privacy was clearly available following existing methods of public health surveillance, but the legislators did not choose that option.
The suggested language for the form also repeatedly uses language about “the mother” and “the unborn child,” which is its own can of worms. The measure is expected to cost $281,285 the first year and $256,285 each subsequent year. A legal challenge has been filed against the bill by former Oklahoma state representative Wanda Stapleton and an Oklahoma resident – they are being represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights arguing on grounds that the Oklahoma Constitution requires that laws address only one subject at a time, but the new measure covers four distinct abortion-related subjects.
More commentary on this law:
- New Oklahoma Law Will Put Details Of All Abortions Online – Jezebel
- The details of your abortion online? – Broadsheet
- New Oklahoma abortion law being challenged – Feminists for Choice
- Oklahoma Law Requires Details of Every Abortion Performed Be Published Online – RH Reality Check