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Pauly Denetclaw
Indian Country Today

Sarah Adams-Cornell was dressed in a black ribbon skirt and a bright red shirt, behind her a giant sign read “Bans Off Our Bodies,” a rallying slogan created by Planned Parenthood in the wake of the Texas Heartbeat Act that became law six months ago. Adams-Cornell stood in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol building on Tuesday during the Bans Off Oklahoma Rally and People’s Hearing to talk about the intersection of the Land Back movement and body sovereignty. It was a windy day but Adams-Cornell was clear.

“We will be loud and we will tell these white, cis, men what we think of their bans,” Adams-Cornell, Choctaw, said to the crowd of over a 100 people. “Our Indigenous women have always known how to care for our bodies. We have always known to go to other women when we need abortions, when we need care.”

The Oklahoma House gave final legislative approval on Tuesday to a bill that would make performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. With little discussion and no debate, the Republican-controlled House voted 70-14 with 16 members not voting. Now the bill heads to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, Cherokee, who has previously said he’d sign any anti-abortion bill that comes to his desk.

Adams-Cornell co-founded Matriarch, a non-profit that promotes the social welfare of Native women. The program co-organized the rally on Tuesday.

“The impact of these bills on all women in Oklahoma and specifically Indigenous women will be great. We will see many women and non-binary and trans people who will be forced to carry pregnancies that they do not want, that they cannot afford, that may even be life threatening,” Adams-Cornell said. “For those who can afford to go out of state, it means financial hardship. It means being in a place where you don't have the support of your community during a very challenging time.”

Indigenous women and people who birth have long had barriers to accessing abortion care. Indian Health Services, due to the Hyde Amendentment that bans the use of federal funding for abortion care, does not provide these services. In fact, the agency until 2010, when the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center sued them, didn’t provide the morning after pill, an emergency contraceptive. Still the issue continues.

“I will say some of these clinics are able to, because of different funding structures, offer it and still won't. Sometimes it comes down to the decision makers in that actual clinic, whether or not they'll offer it even if they can,” Adams-Cornell said. “So I think this stigma is still very much a problem in Indian Country.”

Historically, some Indigenous women, girls and people who birth had forced or coerced sterilizations, thereby making it impossible for them to have children.

“For several decades, we were being sterilized against our will. We have this history of government deciding how and when we will bear children or be pregnant or not,” Adams-Cornell said.

(RELATED: Abortion: Native women respond to onslaught of laws and restrictions across the country)

Today, many Indigenous people experience barriers to accessing contraception, family planning services, sex education and abortion care. The legacy of Indigenous women and people who birth not being able to have a choice in their own reproductive health and well-being continues today.

For state Rep. Mauree Turner, who represents part of Oklahoma City Metro in district 88, it all comes down to choice. Turner is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.

“People should have an opportunity to choose what they get to do with their bodies, right?,” Turner said. “Our bodies and our choices.”

Oklahoma legislators and Gov. Stitt, who presumably would sign the bill into law, are aware this ban on abortions would likely come under legal review to determine whether or not it’s unconstituional. Considering Roe v. Wade is the last and final decision when it comes to abortion care in what is now known as the United States.

“(Stitt) has said that he's going to sign these bills no matter what, unconstitutional or not. And that shows us a couple of things. One, this man is willing and ready to waste taxpayer dollars for any legal fight that comes up, even if he knows that he is fighting a losing battle,” Turner said. “While we have folks who cannot afford housing, who cannot afford groceries, who cannot afford utilities in this state, cannot have access to health care.”

The bill is one of several anti-abortion measures still alive in Oklahoma’s Legislature this year, part of a trend of GOP-led states passing aggressive anti-abortion legislation as the conservative U.S. Supreme Court is considering ratcheting back abortion rights that have been in place for nearly 50 years.

The Oklahoma bill, which passed the Senate last year, makes an exception only for an abortion performed to save the life of the mother, said GOP state Rep. Jim Olsen, of Roland, who sponsored the bill. Under the bill, a person convicted of performing an abortion would face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

“The penalties are for the doctor, not for the woman,” Olsen said.

A point that Turner echoed.

“One of the big things is that this is a direct shot at our abortion providers,” they said. “When you take a shot at healthcare providers and also at the body autonomy — that folks have their right to be able to decide what health care they need for themselves and their bodies with their health care provider — what it does is create this internalized mechanism that says, ‘Okay, I'm scared. I don't want to put this person or their life in danger.’”

Similar anti-abortion bills approved by the Oklahoma Legislature and in other conservative states in recent years have been stopped by the courts as unconstitutional, but anti-abortion lawmakers have been buoyed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow new Texas abortion restrictions to remain in place. The new Texas law, the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the U.S. in decades, leaves enforcement up to private citizens, who are entitled to collect what critics call a “bounty” of $10,000 if they bring a successful lawsuit against a provider or anyone who helps a patient obtain an abortion. Several states, including Oklahoma, are pursuing similar legislation this year.

“These legislators have continued their relentless attacks on our freedoms,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes. “These restrictions are not about improving the safety of the work that we do. They are about shaming and stigmatizing people who need and deserve abortion access.”

Wales said Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic in Oklahoma has seen an 800 percent increase in the number of women from Texas after that state passed its new anti-abortion law last year.

The Texas law bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

Turner stresses that if this bill is signed into law it would not go into effect until late summer. So, people from Oklahoma and Texas would still be able to access abortion care until the law goes into effect. It will likely be challenged making the future of abortion access unclear in Oklahoma.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.