News Abortion

Oklahoma State Supreme Court Rules Two Anti-Choice Bills Unconstitutional

Jodi Jacobson

The Oklahoma State Supreme Court today struck down two state laws used by the anti-choice movement as model legislation across the country.

Court decisions are rolling in like waves. Today, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court upheld the ruling of two lower state courts blocking laws that would have effectively banned medication abortion in the state, and forced Oklahoma women seeking abortion to undergo medically unnecessary and intrustive ultrasounds.

Both laws are among the core of a strategy pursued by the anti-choice movement of passing model legislation in numerous states seeking to eliminate access to abortion care at the state level, and ultimately chipping further away at the access to safe abortion care ostensibly protected by Roe v. Wade.

State district court judges previously blocked both laws as violations of the Oklahoma state constitution. In response, the state officials responsible for enforcing those laws appealed to the state’s highest court.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed the initial legal challenge in April 2010 to block the state law that would have forced every woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, have the image placed in front of her, and hear it described in detail—even if she objected.

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As noted by CRR, the lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma state court, argued that the statute violated the principles of medical ethics by requiring physicians to provide unnecessary and unwanted services to patients, while patronizingly discounting a woman’s ability to make decisions about her pregnancy. A district court judge granted a temporary restraining order against the law in July 2010 and then a permanent injunction in March 2012. It was this permanent injunction the state Supreme Court refused to remove.

CRR also filed a legal challenge in October 2011 to block a state law that 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 filed in Oklahoma state court, CRR argued that 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.

That law was temporarily blocked in October 2011 and then permanently struck down by a district court judge in May 2012. The Center filed its legal challenge 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.

Women’s rights advocates involved in the cases celebrated the rulings.

“As the courts that have already heard these cases have resoundingly affirmed, a woman’s right to a full range of reproductive health care is fundamental and constitutionally protected,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at CRR.

We are pleased that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has upheld the decisions by the lower courts to affirm these rights as fully protected rights.

“Oklahoma has long been a testing ground for a national network of organizations hostile to women, doctors, Northup continued, “and the rights of both, and these two laws are prime examples of politicians imposing their ideologies on women’s personal medical decisions. But despite their best efforts to chip away at women’s fundamental rights, the courts have consistently rejected these extreme assaults on reproductive freedom.”

News Law and Policy

Legal Experts to Appeals Court: Daleiden and His Anti-Choice Front Group Pose Threat to Abortion Access

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A series of legal briefs filed with a federal appeals court argue that David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress engaged in fraud that puts providers' and patients' lives at risk.

Legal experts from across the country filed “friend of the court” briefs last week pressing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to leave in place an order permanently blocking David Daleiden and his anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress, from releasing smear videos against Planned Parenthood.

In February, a federal district judge in California ruled Daleiden and his organization had engaged in a pattern of fraud in making the videos, which claim the reproductive health-care provider violated federal law by selling fetal tissue. Legally, patients are allowed to donate fetal tissue, and reproductive health-care centers are allowed to account for the reasonable costs associated with that donation.

Daleiden and CMP appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week’s briefs were filed in opposition to Daleiden’s appeal.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Feminist Majority Foundation filed one of the briefs, putting in context for the court how the videos fit into the framework of violence abortion providers and their patients face daily. The brief included detailed information about the well-documented uptick in violence and threats abortion providers have faced since the videos were released.

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“CMP’s actions fit within the same pattern of activity intended to threaten abortion providers and make them feel that they are not safe while working in their lawful professions providing constitutionally-protected medical care,” the brief stated.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California echoed that argument, detailing the effect on the organization’s efforts to provide reproductive health care since Daleiden and CMP first started releasing the videos last summer.

“The release of the fraudulently obtained and recklessly manipulated video tapes has caused enormous harm to Planned Parenthood, its staff, and its patients, and has threatened to jeopardize its ability to offer reproductive health care services to millions of predominantly low-income women, men and teens in America,” stated the brief.

“The Planned Parenthood clinicians who were portrayed in the videos have experienced substantial reputational and emotional harm, in addition to suffering from the increased violence and threats of violence described above, although they have not been found to have done anything wrong,” it continued.

The videos, first released last July, prompted investigations in at least a dozen states and Congress into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue practices.

So far, no investigation has uncovered any evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood employees. Daleiden, however, remains under criminal indictment in Texas for fraud in connection with his production and release of the videos and faces a separate lawsuit arguing his organization engaged in a criminal conspiracy when it produced and released them.

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.