News Abortion

Oklahoma Senate Passes Admitting Privileges Bill (Corrected)

Teddy Wilson

A day after the Louisiana legislature passed a bill modeled after a Texas law that has severely restricted access to safe, legal abortion in the state, the Oklahoma senate has done the same.

Correction: A version of this story incorrectly noted that SB 1848 had been sent to the governor’s desk. In fact, as the Tulsa World notes in a correction to its original story about the senate’s passage of the bill, the legislation is headed back to the state house. We regret the error.

A day after the Louisiana legislature passed a bill modeled after a Texas law that has severely restricted access to safe, legal abortion in the state, the Oklahoma senate has done the same. The bill would require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the abortions are performed.

Sponsored by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), SB 1848 passed the state senate by a vote of 34 to 9.

An amendment that was adopted in the house that would have banned embryonic stem cell research was stripped out of the bill in the senate.

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As Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, previously explained to Rewire, admitting privileges laws are at odds with best medical practices and do nothing to improve patient safety. “They are nothing more than smokescreens to their real intent of restricting access to reproductive health-care services,” said Kiesel. 

The Oklahoma senate joins the legislatures of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in passing laws that  will drastically reduce access to abortion across the South.

News Law and Policy

Reproductive Rights Advocates Ask Oklahoma Supreme Court to Block Admitting Privileges Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The emergency request comes after a lower court ruled the law could take effect November 1.

Reproductive rights advocates filed an emergency motion Monday with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, asking the state’s highest court to put on hold new anti-choice regulations set to take effect November 1.

The filing comes after Oklahoma County District Court Judge Bill Graves ruled last week that SB 1848, which mandates that all reproductive health-care clinics have a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital, could take effect.

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed the emergency motion on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns, a Norman-based abortion provider who provides about 44 percent of the abortions in the state. Burns, according to court filings, has been unable to obtain the required hospital admitting privileges and will likely be forced to stop providing abortions should the law be enforced.

In their motion papers, attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights argue Graves’ order allowing SB 1848 to take effect erred on several fronts, including wrongly, and without any analysis, concluding Burns would be unable to successfully show the admitting privileges law violates Oklahoma’s “single-subject” rule.

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This rule requires laws passed in the state to deal with one discreet issue. SB 1848 deals with six distinct provisions that have no common theme or purpose, according to the plaintiffs.

Burns also claims the law is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority because it effectively grants hospital boards the power to determine who can and cannot provide abortions in the state.

Graves also ruled that Burns did not have standing to challenge the rule on behalf of patients who would likely face delays in accessing abortions should Burns be forced to close his clinic doors.

Those delays, the attorneys argue, will increase the cost and risk associated with the procedure. “Delay will also mean that some women do not get appointments in time to qualify for a medication abortion,” the brief says. “Other women may progress beyond the time when legal second trimester abortion is available in Oklahoma.”

The motion asks that the Oklahoma Supreme Court put the law on hold while a trial on its constitutionality proceeds.

“As Dr. Burns established, however, S.B. 1848 offends the rights of all Oklahoma citizens by violating the Oklahoma’s Constitution’s single-subject mandate, targeting physicians who provide abortion and their patients for discriminatory treatment and unconstitutionally delegating legislative authority to unelected officials,” Burns’ lawyers argued in their brief. “The Act would deprive Dr. Burns of his livelihood and deprive all women throughout the state of Oklahoma of access to safe medical care.”

News Law and Policy

Oklahoma Court Refuses to Block Admitting Privileges Requirement

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Attorneys the Center for Reproductive Rights say they're planning to file an emergency appeal with the state supreme court.

Oklahoma can enforce its new anti-abortion admitting privileges requirement beginning November 1, a state district court judge ruled Friday.

SB 1848 mandates all reproductive health care clinics have a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital on-site when abortion procedures are performed.

Earlier this month, attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights sued on behalf of Larry A. Burns, a physician with over 41 years of experience providing abortion care in Norman, Oklahoma. Burns, one of three abortion providers in the state, has been unable to obtain privileges at any of the 16 qualifying hospitals within 30 miles of his office, with many hospitals even refusing to process his application, according to the complaint.

The order, just over three pages long, relied on Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, the Fifth Circuit decision upholding Texas’ admitting privileges requirement in HB 2, to tersely dismiss Burns’ challenge.

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The court scolded Burns for what it saw as failing to try and obtain admitting privileges, noting he waited 77 days after the law took effect to apply. “If he has not heard back from all of the places to which he has applied, it is his own fault and there is no violation of due process,” the court wrote.

“Of the 16 hospitals from which Plaintiff sought admitting privileges, 12 have already denied his request. He has gotten responses, but just not the ones he wants.”

Saying only that Burns was unlikely to succeed on the merits, the court dismissed the the plaintiff’s claim that SB 1848 violates the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires laws passed in the state to deal with one discreet issue. SB 1848 deals with six distinct provisions that have no common theme or purpose, according to the complaint.

The court also found that Burns had no standing to challenge SB 1848 on behalf of his patients, which means that if the court’s ruling stands, Oklahoma patients will have to, on their own, challenge the law as unduly burdening their abortion rights.

“This copycat clinic shutdown law would put Oklahoma among the ranks of several states in the region that have endangered women’s health and safety by eliminating critical services for those who have made the decision to end a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement following the decision.

“We will take every legal step necessary to ensure this law never takes effect, and now look to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to step in and immediately protect women’s rights and access to safe, legal abortion,” she said, indicating that the group plans to file an emergency appeal with the state supreme court.

Reproductive rights advocates are fighting a wave of admitting privileges restrictions in courts across the country, including two challenges to Texas’ admitting privileges requirement, which while in effect has forced clinic closures across the state. Federal courts have blocked similar laws in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.