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Lawsuit Challenges Oklahoma Emergency Contraception Restrictions

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Thursday arguing the state's age and proof-of-identification requirements violate the state's constitution.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a new legal challenge Thursday against an Oklahoma law that places unnecessary age and proof-of-identification barriers on women’s access to emergency contraception (EC).

The law, HB 2226, attempts to reinstate restrictions on access to EC, which had been removed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), thus imposing unique limits on Oklahoma women’s ability to get the medication. HB 2226 passed largely without much attention to it, because it primarily focused on regulating health insurance benefit forms, but the law also includes an unrelated and discriminatory provision requiring women age 17 and older to show identification to a pharmacist in order to obtain Plan B One-Step and generic emergency contraceptives and requiring those under 17 to have a prescription to obtain them. Because of that additional and unrelated provision regulating EC, argues CRR, the law clearly violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s “single-subject rule,” a provision which was designed to prevent abuses of power by the legislature and limits state laws to address only one issue at a time.

In addition, CRR’s legal challenge argues that HB 2226 discriminates against Oklahoma women by imposing arbitrary and unjustified restrictions on a form of contraception used only by women. “Politicians do not have the right to discriminate against the women in their state by singling out a form of birth control that only they can use,” said David Brown, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are confident that the courts will continue to uphold the clear protections afforded by the Oklahoma Constitution for all women living in the state and will immediately block this law.”

CRR filed its lawsuit in state court on behalf of Jo Ann Mangili, an Oklahoma mother of a teen daughter, and the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a membership organization dedicated to promoting reproductive justice through education, empowerment, and advocacy.

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The Oklahoma lawsuit is a continuation of a decades-long legal battle to make EC widely available for all who need it. It wasn’t until a federal court ordered the Obama administration to stop caving to political pressure that the FDA finally approved one form of EC, Plan B One-Step, for unrestricted, over-the-counter sale. As of August 1, the product is supposed to be available in the family planning aisle of pharmacy and grocery store shelves across the country, including Oklahoma, to women of all ages. HB 2226 puts that access in jeopardy.

The Oklahoma legislature has a long history of violating the state constitution’s single-subject rule, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down five different laws in the last five years on those grounds. For example, the state’s law requiring a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and hear the images described even if she objects was first struck down as a violation of the state’s single-subject rule. The state legislature went on to pass the ultrasound requirement as a stand-alone bill, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in December 2012. Reproductive rights advocates expect the court will do the same here, but in the meantime its citizens will have to pay for lawmakers to defend yet another unconstitutional abortion restriction.

“The opponents of women’s rights in the Oklahoma legislature are like the worst kind of broken record, repeating their attempts to deny Oklahoma women essential reproductive health care again and again and again,” said Bebe Anderson, director of the U.S. legal program for the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement. “At a time when the federal government has taken an historic step to make emergency contraception more available to millions of women across the country, these hostile politicians have chosen to stand in the way of progress and cast aside their state’s constitution to impose arbitrary barriers on safe and effective birth control.”

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