News Law and Policy

Oklahoma Lawmakers Pre-File Anti-Choice Bills

Teddy Wilson

Republican state lawmakers have introduced bills that would require admitting privileges at local hospitals for doctors who perform abortions, that would add further requirements to the state's informed consent law, and that would modify the medication abortion law that was ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court.

Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma have pre-filed bills that would further restrict access to reproductive health care in the state, as they prepare for 2014 legislative session, which begins on Monday, February 3.

State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) pre-filed HB 2418, which would change the state’s requirements for doctors who perform abortions. The bill would require that doctors have “clinical privileges at a hospital which offers obstetrical or gynecological care that is located within 30 miles of the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.”

Similar laws mandating that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges have been challenged in several states. Most recently, a federal appeals court upheld a decision blocking a similar law in Wisconsin.

In addition, a pair of bills has been filed by Rep. Randy Grau (R-Edmond). HB 2685 would make several additions to the state’s existing informed consent law. For instance, it would add reporting requirements by abortion providers and would allow the potential father or grandparents to sue the provider if they claim all requirements of the law were not met. Grau also sponsored a bill during the last legislative session to make the state’s parental notification laws more stringent; that legislation went into effect in November.

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In October, the state supreme court ruled that Oklahoma’s restrictions on medication abortions were unconstitutional because the language in the law created an effective ban on all medication abortions. HB 2684 would modify that law by removing the language that created that effective ban.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma, told Rewire that the ACLU and its allies are ready to protect the rights of women to make reproductive decisions free from political interference. “It is reprehensible that some politicians continue to pretend that the legislation that they recycle, with little variation, year after year is a legitimate substitute for medical decisions made by doctors and their patients,” said Kiesel.

News Law and Policy

Lawsuit Challenges Anti-Choice Laws Passed by Louisiana Lawmakers

Teddy Wilson

The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Friday in federal district court challenging abortion restrictions passed by Louisiana lawmakers this year.

Despite facing a budget crisis, lawmakers passed seven laws that restricted access to reproductive health care, including abortion services, which the Center for Reproductive Rights claims “individually, and cumulatively” unduly restrict the “constitutional right to abortion.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the laws collectively create a “web of red tape” that restrict women’s ability to access reproductive health care.

“Louisiana politicians are trying to do what the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled decisively they cannot, burying women’s right to safe and legal abortion under an avalanche of unjustified and burdensome restrictions,” Northup said.

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The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor at Tulane University, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 was a “strong rebuke” of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law.

“I think the Louisiana law and any similar laws are going to be struck down,” Griffin said. “[Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg filed a reminder to courts that the five-member majority is going to be looking very skeptically at targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

Among the laws challenged is a law similar to Texas’ HB 2.

HB 488 requires that physicians providing abortion care be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and that they be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine. Previously, the law required that a physician be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and be currently enrolled in or have completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), who in 2014 authored the state’s Texas-style admitting privileges law. The law is the subject of another Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit, and is currently blocked by a Supreme Court decision.

Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 “does not predict a favorable forecast” for a similar law passed in Louisiana.

“The sad thing here as we see it is that these judges are replacing the elected officials and the legislative process as the determiner of what is medically important or not,” Clapper said. “We don’t believe that’s how it should be.”

Among the other laws challenged include those that restrict abortion procedures, require a waiting period before an abortion, impose restrictions on the handling of fetal tissue, and ban public funding for organizations that provide abortion services.

HB 1081 targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions. A growing number of states have passed laws to ban the procedure, while state courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas.

HB 386 tripled the state’s waiting period for a pregnant patient seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours.

HB 1019 prohibits a person from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion with knowledge that the pregnant patient is seeking the abortion solely because the “unborn child” has been diagnosed with either a genetic abnormality or a potential for a genetic abnormality.

HB 815 prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of the “intact body of a human embryo or fetus” obtained from an induced abortion. The law also prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of “organs, tissues, or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus whose death was knowingly caused by an induced abortion.”

In addition, it “require[s] burial or cremation of remains resulting from abortion,” which acts as a de facto medication abortion ban, since an embryo miscarried at home, through medication abortion, cannot in practice be buried or cremated.

SB 33, similar to HB 815, prohibits the sale, receipt, and transport of fetal organs and body parts obtained from an induced abortion. Any person who violates this provision would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at hard labor between ten to 50 years, at least ten years of which must be served without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, and may, in addition, be required to pay a fine of not more than $50,000.

HB 606 prohibits entities that perform abortions from receiving public funding, unless the abortion was necessary to save the life of the pregnant patient, the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape, or the pregnancy was diagnosed as “medically futile.”

Most of the bills were passed with significant bipartisan support, and were signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Each of the laws is set to take effect on August 1. 

”We are asking the district court to immediately block these unconstitutional laws,” Northup said.

News Law and Policy

Oklahoma Governor Signs Bill to Create Anti-Choice Public Education Campaign

Teddy Wilson

HB 2797 directs the Oklahoma State Department of Health to develop materials that “provide public information through public service announcements, media and otherwise for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) Monday signed into law a bill authorizing the state’s health department and local schools to provide “educational materials” to the public that “clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being.”

HB 2797 directs the Oklahoma State Department of Health to develop materials that “provide public information through public service announcements, media and otherwise for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.” 

The so-called Humanity of the Unborn Child Act, which was sponsored by Rep. Ann Coody (R-Lawton), also creates an optional instructional program for school students. Coody said the intent of the bill is to instruct teenagers that life begins at conception, reported the Tulsa World.

Joe Thai, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Oklahoma Law School, told the local NBC affiliate there are significant concerns about HB 2797.

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“There certainly would be a question whether or not mandating that teaching from one point of view of a hot political button issue is really where state public schools should be going rather than teaching math reading and writing and leaving abortion and other hot button issues to parents and to the pulpit,” Thai said.

Democrats also criticized proponents of the bill for their focus on abortion without any focus on sex education.

“You’re starting a book at the end,” Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) said, reported the Tulsa World. “A student in Oklahoma would learn about abortion and gestational cycles, but there would be no guarantee that they would learn about sex and pregnancy.”

House Democrats attempted to amend the bill during the house floor debate in March.

Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) offered an amendment to the bill that would include a requirement that comprehensive sex education also be taught as part of the anti-choice curriculum. Dunnington also offered an amendment to “provide family planning services, including all forms of contraceptives.”

Both amendments were voted down by the Republican majority.

The GOP-dominated state legislature, in which Republicans hold a 70-31 majority in the house and a 39-9 majority in the senate, easily passed the measure. The house voted in May to pass the bill with a 69-15 vote, and it was then passed by the senate with a 42-1 vote.

The new law will take effect on November 1; however, the bill’s implementation is “contingent on the provision of appropriated funds or revolving funds designated for the State Board of Education for such purpose.”