Oklahoma Anti-Choice Legislators Waste Tax Payer Money Over and Over Again

Amie Newman

Anti-choice legislators in Oklahoma are experts on at least two things: waste and distraction. And the state Supreme Court agrees.

Anti-choice legislators in Oklahoma are experts on at least two things: waste and distraction. After repeatedly introducing laws – and having them overturned by the courts for being unconsitutional – that do nothing more than force government intrusion into the professional lives of physicians and the personal lives of women seeking reproductive health care, they continue to waste taxpayer time and money by ignoring constitutional rules.

Yesterday a bill that may be unconstitutional sailed through the OK House and is on its way to the Senate. It would force physicians performing abortions to narrate an ultrasound description to the pregnant woman on whom the ultrasound is being performed. This was one week after an Oklahoma district court ruled unconsitutional a 2009 law that created a public web site where doctors would be forced to publish personal information on women who have had abortions (including their names and the reason for their abortions). And now the Oklahoma Supreme Court confirmed the ruling of a lower court that mandatory viewing of ultrasounds is unconstitutional putting to rest a 2008 law that would have forced women to view the ultrasound of their pregnancy prior to receiving an abortion.

The 2009 law was oveturned in response to a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), and would have also banned sex-selective abortions, in addition to legislating other abortion-related issues as well.  The law was ruled unconstitutional because it dealt with too many issues simultaneously – violating Oklahoma’s constitution that laws must pertain to only a single subject.

In 2008, anti-choice legislators were able to get a law passed that would have legislated forced ultrasounds – including a specific description of the ultrasound image:

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Under the guise of obtaining informed patient consent, this new law requires doctors to withhold pregnancy termination until an ultrasound is performed. The law states that either an abdominal or vaginal ultrasound, whichever gives the best image of the fetus, must be done. Neither the patient nor the doctor can decide which type of ultrasound to use, and the patient cannot opt out of the ultrasound and still have the procedure. In effect, then, the legislature has mandated that a woman have an instrument placed in her vagina for no medical benefit. The law makes no exception for victims of rape and incest.

Once again, however, CRR successfully had the law overturned in court using the same “single-issue” argument as the law attempted to both force the viewing of an ultrasound as well as compel the physician to describe the ultrasound “in detail.”

In a strongly worded “excoriation” of the Oklahoma state legislature, according to Stephanie Toti, a staff attorney at CRR, the Supreme Court ruling calls the passage of these laws “a continuous failure to abide by the Oklahoma constitution.”

The Supreme Court ruling released on March 2, 2010, confirmed the lower court ruling on SB 1878, the 2008 law requiring mandatory ultrasound viewing. This was part of a bill that included a veritable menu of other anti-choice provisions including mandaes for the posting of signs in abortion clinics stating that a person may not be coerced into having an abortion procedure and for the information physicians provided to their patients about RU-486. The ruling states:

“We are growing weary of admonishing the Legislature for so flagrantly violating the terms of the Oklahoma Constitution.”

The Oklahoma Supreme Court goes on to state that violating the OK Constitution over and over again in relation to the single-subject rule (“Over the last two decades we have addressed the single subject rule at least seven times”) is:

“…a waste of time for the Legislature and the Court, and a waste of taxpayer’s money.”

While this current bill before the Oklahoma legislature, HB 2780, does not force women to view the ultrasound, it does compel that the doctor describe the ultrasound image. For what it’s worth, ultrasounds are a standard part of abortion care already – in order for a doctor to perform an abortion procedure, she or he needs to view the embryo or fetus inside the womb to ensure that there are no signs of an ectopic pregnancy, for example.

At the clinic for which I worked, the offer to view the ultrasound was part of the care we provided to each woman. It was our philosophical belief that offering women the opportunity to receive more information while allowing her to make the ultimate decision, allowed for a more empowering experience. Laws that force women to view the ultrasound or to hear a description of the ultrasound being performed and therefore force physicians to perform or provide a medical service, infringe on the doctor/patient relationship in dangerous ways.

Astoundingly, the bill passed the OK House without a question or a discussion, despite this history of wasting taxpayer time and money by passing unconstitutional laws and then having them overturned. According to NewsOK:

House members didn’t ask questions or debate House Bill 2780. It passed 87-7 and now goes to the Senate.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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