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.

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