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Lawsuit Asks Oklahoma Supreme Court to Block Anti-Choice Omnibus Bill

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block enforcement of an anti-choice measure that permits warrantless searches of abortion providers, among other provisions.

Reproductive rights advocates on Friday filed a lawsuit asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to step in and block enforcement of an anti-choice omnibus bill they argue violates the Oklahoma Constitution.

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit directly with the Oklahoma Supreme Court to permanently block enforcement of SB 642, a multi-subject measure that permits warrantless searches of abortion providers, among other provisions.

SB 642 includes language that advocates claim could be interpreted to bring felony charges for any violation of the more than 140 statutes targeted at physicians and medical facilities providing abortion. Attorneys argue that if SB 642 were enforced in this arbitrary manner, the law could subject clinic staff to prosecution for posting a required sign in a font style different from that dictated by statute, or for filing a required form a few days late.

SB 642 is scheduled to go into effect on November 1.

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Friday’s lawsuit is the seventh time in five years that the Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged unconstitutional restrictions on abortion in Oklahoma, including challenges to the state’s Texas-style clinic shutdown law and restrictions on medication abortion. The state Supreme Court temporarily blocked the clinic shutdown law from taking effect in November 2014, and a state court permanently blocked the restrictions on medication abortion last month.

SB 642 violates Oklahoma’s “single subject” rule, the provision of the state constitution that requires every act of the legislature address only one subject, which is supposed to be clearly explained in the act’s title, according to the petition. Advocates argue SB 642 violates the single subject rule by encompassing four different subjects.

First, the law expands the scope of existing law that makes it a crime to assist a minor to obtain an abortion in violation of the laws related to parental consent. Second, advocates claim, SB 642 requires abortion providers to preserve fetal tissue from a procedure performed on a minor under 14 and submit the tissue to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Third, the act requires the Department of Health to establish policies and procedures for licensing-related inspections, and for inspections and investigations pursuant to complaints, with broad authority to enter and inspect an abortion facility. Finally, SB 642 arguably establishes broad criminal and civil penalties as well as civil liability for violation of a broad swath of abortion statutes.

Ilene Jaroslaw, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed today’s challenge on behalf of Larry A. Burns, a physician with more than four decades of experience and one of only two abortion providers in the state.

“We filed this case directly with the Oklahoma Supreme Court because this is such a blatant violation of the Oklahoma Constitution,” Jaroslaw told Rewire. “We are confident that the state’s highest court will understand the urgency and importance of this matter and block the law before it takes effect on November 1.”

Attorneys from the state of Oklahoma have not yet responded to the petition.

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