News Abortion

In Key Victory, Oklahoma State Judge Finds Arbitrary Restrictions on Medication Abortion Unconstitutional

Jodi Jacobson

In what is being called an unprecedented ruling recognizing bodily integrity and reproductive choice as fundamental rights under the Oklahoma state constitution, an Oklahoma state judge has found that a law restricting medical care for women seeking an abortion is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

In what the Center for Reproductive Rights calls an “unprecedented ruling recognizing bodily integrity and reproductive choice as fundamental rights under the Oklahoma state constitution,” an Oklahoma state judge has found that a law restricting medical care for women seeking an abortion is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

The ruling, issued Friday by Oklahoma County District Judge Donald Worthington, pertains to access to medication abortion, a method of early abortion that has been proven safe and effective in both clinical trials and through widespread experience in Europe and the United States. More than 1.4 million women in the U.S. have undergone early termination of pregnancy using medication abortion since mifepristone was approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration in 2000

Despite safety data, a law passed by the overwhelmingly anti-choice Oklahoma legislature in early 2011 arbitrarily restricted access to medication abortion. 

Judge Worthington ruled that the bill’s restrictions on medication abortion are unconstitutional because they are “so completely at odds with the standard that governs the practice of medicine that [the bill] can serve no purpose other than to prevent women from obtaining abortions and to punish and discriminate against those women who do.”

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The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the original legal challenge [Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice et al., v. Terry Cline, et al.] in October 2011 on behalf of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the availability of the full range of reproductive health-care services to women throughout the state, and Nova Health Systems, a non-profit reproductive health-care facility located in Tulsa.

The law — which had been temporarily blocked since October — would have banned any off-label use of medications for abortion or treatment of ectopic pregnancy, while explicitly allowing off-label use of the same medication for other purposes. According to the lawsuit, the law not only jeopardizes women’s health by preventing doctors from using safe and effective methods available, but also undermines women’s ability to exercise the full range of their fundamental constitutionally protected reproductive rights.

“This decision adds to a growing list of state and federal courts that have reaffirmed in no uncertain terms that reproductive rights are fundamental constitutional rights that must be afforded the strongest possible legal protection,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the legal challenge last year.

It sends a strong message to anti-choice legislators in Oklahoma and beyond that their disingenuous tactics for restricting access to abortion and their hostility toward women’s fundamental rights will not stand. The court has made it clear this law was never about protecting women. It was about banning safe and effective methods of terminating a pregnancy, and making it impossible for women to exercise the full range of their constitutionally protected rights.

Availability of medication abortion is critical to ensuring all women have access to safe, early terminationof pregnancy and is particularly important to those living in rural or semi-rural areas with no abortion provider.

News Abortion

Legal Abortion Care Could Soon End in Oklahoma (Updated)

Nicole Knight Shine

Federal courts have blocked similar Republican-led attempts to ban abortion care in other states. The Supreme Court this year refused to review the North Dakota GOP's ban on abortion care as early as six weeks of pregnancy, as well as Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

UPDATE, May 20, 5:16 p.m.: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Friday afternoon vetoed the state GOP’s total abortion ban, according to a report from CNN

An unprecedented measure to make providing abortion care a felony punishable by up to three years in prison now awaits the signature of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

The GOP-backed SB 1552 outlaws abortions except to save the patient’s life. Physicians who perform abortions in other cases will lose their medical licenses and would be unable to obtain or renew a license.

The bill’s backer, Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), reportedly said he hoped the legislation might spur an overturn of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

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The governor has five days to sign the measure before it automatically becomes law, according to reports. Her representative told the Associated Press on Thursday that Fallin is withholding comment until her staff has time to review the anti-choice legislation.

With no discussion or debate, the state’s Republican-dominated state senate on Thursday voted for the bill 33-12, as the Associated Press reported, with a handful of Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

State Sen. Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City), the only physician in the chamber, described the abortion ban as “insane” and voted against it.

Officials from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the state medical association called the legislation, the first of its kind, unconstitutional.

Amanda Allen, the center’s senior state legislative counsel, called on the Oklahoma governor in a statement to “reject this cruel and unconstitutional ban.”

Fallin’s signature on the measure could set up an expensive legal fight.

CRR officials have challenged what it described as unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care in Oklahoma eight times in five years, according to a statement released Thursday. Those restrictions include measures to impose a forced 72-hour delay before a person can receive abortion care, and to outlaw the most common method of second-trimester abortion.

Federal courts have blocked similar Republican-led attempts to ban abortion care in other states. The Supreme Court this year refused to review the North Dakota GOP’s ban on abortion care as early as six weeks of pregnancy, as well as Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

News Abortion

Oklahoma Republicans Move to Make Abortion Care a Felony

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Other Republican-held state legislatures have passed laws that ban abortion care prior to fetal viability or attempt to ban the procedure outright. Federal courts have so far blocked those measures.

The GOP-controlled Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday passed a law designed to outlaw abortion entirely.

SB 1552 attempts to ban legal abortion by making it a felony to perform or induce an abortion. The bill contains no exceptions for the patient’s life or health and would strip physicians who provide abortion care of their medical licenses.

The bill now heads back to the Oklahoma State Senate and then to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. Republicans hold a 39-9 state senate majority in Oklahoma. The state senate’s next vote on the bill would approve changes made to the measure. The chamber passed SB 1552 in March.

The criminalization of abortion care is the latest legislative attempt to roll back abortion rights in the state. Should it become law, reproductive rights advocates would most certainly sue to have it blocked.

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Other Republican-held state legislatures have passed laws that ban abortion care prior to fetal viability or attempt to ban the procedure outright. Federal courts have so far blocked those measures. The Supreme Court this year refused to review North Dakota’s GOP-backed ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy as well as Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The nation’s highest court in 2014 refused to review Arizona’s ban on abortion care at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“The Center for Reproductive Rights is closely watching this bill and we strongly urge Governor Fallin to reject this cruel and unconstitutional ban” Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission year after year to restrict women’s access vital health care services, yet this total ban on abortion is a new low. When abortion is illegal, women and their health, futures, and families suffer.”

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights have challenged Oklahoma’s anti-choice laws eight times in the past five years, including a challenge to a law forcing patients to delay abortion care by at least 72 hours and a ban on the most common method of second-trimester abortion. A state court judge blocked the second-trimester abortion ban in 2015, but allowed the forced waiting period to take effect.