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Oklahoma Law That Exposed Abortion Providers to Felony Charges Permanently Blocked

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Oklahoma Supreme Court permanently blocked the law's series of provisions, including one that exposed doctors to felony charges.

A unanimous Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down on Tuesday a sweeping anti-choice law that included provisions subjecting providers to possible felony charges for even minor infractions of anti-abortion regulations.

SB 642 is an omnibus law passed in 2015 that—in addition to exposing providers to possible felony charges—permitted state health regulators to conduct unannounced, warrantless searches of abortion providers and threatened with criminal penalties anyone who helped a minor “evade” parental consent requirements in Oklahoma.

Tuesday’s decision is the second time in a year that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has blocked SB 642 from taking effect. The court initially blocked the provisions in October 2015 after attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights sued, arguing the legislation violated Oklahoma’s “single-subject” rule. Oklahoma’s Constitution requires every act of the legislature to address only one subject, which is supposed to be clearly explained in the act’s title.

According to the lawsuit, SB 642 violated the single-subject rule because it encompassed four different subjects that ranged from potentially subjecting doctors to felonies to mandating providers collect fetal tissue from any patient  younger than 14 and store that information for state investigators.

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The court agreed. Tuesday’s ruling makes permanent the court’s 2015 order and was based on the same reasoning: that the law left legislators with an “unpalatable all-or-nothing choice” in voting for it.

“The heart of the single subject rule is to insure [sic] constitutional protection that each piece of legislation enacted is worth of the approval of the voter and to prevent the enactment of unpopular provisions by logrolling or attaching it to a favorable bill,” the court wrote.

Four judges in a separate concurring opinion wrote they would have also struck the provisions as unconstitutional burdens on abortion rights.

In a statement, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the decision a “critical victory” in a state that has seen an onslaught of anti-abortion restrictions and litigation in the last year.

 

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