ROE STRUCK DOWN: Local residents weigh in; many hoped for exceptions in state's trigger law

Jun. 25—In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the U.S. has overturned Roe v. Wade, which strips protections for women to lawfully acquire an abortion.

The decision has sparked conversation, protest, and celebration across the United States and world, and in Cherokee County, leaders were still processing this information Friday.

District 27 District Attorney Jack Thorp said he was made aware of the Supreme Court's decision Friday morning, and had been keeping up with the news and commentary most of the day.

"Our office will review the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma law, and will meet with and advise our law enforcement partners throughout District 27 — Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah, and Wagoner counties. It is my duty to follow the law, and I intend to do just that," he said.

Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron is critical of the decision and fears the ruling will increase the number of abortions in the U.S.

"Every time one of our legislators votes to reduce easy access to reliable birth control, they have voted to increase the number of abortions performed annually in the U.S. Overturning Roe v. Wade and trying to eliminate the need for abortions by making the procedure itself illegal or creating felons of those who assist with the procedure is much like trying to legislate alcohol abuse out of existence through Prohibition. It does not address the root problem," said Catron.

She said the crux of the problem is the inability of the government to ensure that all pregnancies are wanted. As law is written, the economic responsibility for a child rests equally on both parents, and not government entities.

"When we finally, as a nation, start working to address these two issues, then finally, will we reduce abortion as a fix for unwanted pregnancies. In the meanwhile, I am old enough to remember women routinely dying of botched coat hanger procedures. Overturning Roe v. Wade has been a distraction, a diversion from the real work that must be accomplished," said Catron.

Rev. Tammy Schmidt, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Tahlequah, is upset at the ruling because she does not believe it will lower the abortion rate.

"I find that Roe v. Wade being turned down is tragic. Preventing legal abortions does not mean that abortions will cease. What the courts have done is created a situation for women that will force them to find any means possible to get an abortion. Safety is the primary concern," she said.

As a woman, she is also upset because the ruling targets women, disproportionately to men.

"I am saddened to see this being struck down because we have not won as women. There are no victories today. There is nothing to celebrate. Women, for the first time in over 50 years, now have less rights than what our grandmothers had. This is a day that we knew has been coming for some time, but is shocking nonetheless," said Schmidt.

The Supreme Court ruling will also initiate a trigger law in Oklahoma, which effectively cuts the right of women to receive an abortion. Oklahoma is one of 13 states to enact such a law, following the ruling. The law does make exceptions if the mother's life is in danger, but not for rape or incest.

Patti Gulager, a Tahlequah-based nurse, has counseled pregnant women for 10 years. In her time, she said abortion was the least considered option. She recalled a story wherein a woman was forced to carry a dead baby for two weeks because of anti-abortion laws in Oklahoma.

"I didn't see the same women over and over, either. I made a total of five referrals in 10 years. Incest was one of the top reasons," Gulager said. "The thing that has always stuck with me is the woman whose fetus died at eight months. We could not get the evacuation drugs needed because of anti-abortion laws. Her life wasn't in danger but her mental health was terminal. She carried that dead baby for two weeks before they could clear the drugs for use. Should have been easy, but so, so complicated."

Before the landmark ruling came down, the Tahlequah Daily Press sent questionnaires out to all candidates for District 2 Congress. Among other things, they were asked about their stance on abortion. Six responded — one independent, and five Republicans. Two Republicans would allow no exceptions.

"I am 100% pro-life, the only exceptions would be in cases of life-threatening emergency or rape/incest," said Clint Johnson.

Pamela Gordon and Chris Schiller don't believe women should have the right to an abortion, even when a woman's life is in danger.

"Let me be clear: God is the giver of life, and what he brings into existence is not ours to encumber. I will never support abortion in any capacity," said Gordon.

Josh Brecheen called abortion murder, except for when a woman's life is in danger. Johnny Teehee, likewise, would support a ban on abortions, unless the life of a woman is in danger.

Ben Robinson, the independent and a former state senator, described abortion as a complicated matter, and said lawmakers should give thought when addressing the issue.

"Unfortunately, I grew up in a state where you had to drive 1,000 miles to get a legal abortion or 100 miles to get an illegal one," said Robinson. "No one is in favor of abortions, but the health and safety of the mother and the knowledge of the physician should prevail. My Senate record will reflect many things I was supportive of for women and children."

Some companies may be willing to help their employees, or even leave Oklahoma.

Lauren Hobart, president and CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, said her company is committed to protecting the health and well-being of the company's employees. Amid Roe v. Wade's reversal, Dick's will pay for the travel expenses of its employees who live in states where abortion is deemed illegal.

"In response to today's ruling, we are announcing that if a state one of our teammates lives in restricts access to abortion, Dick's Sporting Goods will provide up to $4,000 in travel expense reimbursement to travel to the nearest location where that care is legally available. This benefit will be provided to any teammate, spouse, or dependent enrolled in our medical plan, along with one support person," she said. "At Dick's our teammates are the heart of our business, and we are committed to protecting their health and well-being."

Keri Gordon and Kim Poindexter contributed to this story.

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