Oklahoma high court strikes down state abortion laws

[JURIST] The Oklahoma Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday struck down two state laws, HB 2780 and HB 1970 [opinions], limiting abortion rights for physicians and patients for unconstitutionality. The first law [HB 2780 text] mandated that physicians must require that any patient seeking an abortion undergo an ultra-sound, whereby the image of the fetus was to be described and placed in direct view of the patient. The law was first challenged in federal court in 2010 in Nova Health Systems v. Pruitt [order, PDF], and the court enjoined enforcement of the bill in holding that it interfered with patients' and physicians' rights to make decisions regarding medical treatment. The second law [HB 1970 text] was first challenged in federal court in 2011 in Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice v. Terry Cline [complaint, PDF]. The law imposed broad and stringent limitations on physicians when prescribing abortion-inducing medications to patients, and banned the prescription of "off-label" drugs known to have abortion-inducing effects even when used to treat ectopic pregnancies. The lower court held that the law infringed upon women's constitutional reproductive rights and interfered with doctor's abilities to provide safe and efficacious treatment to patients. After appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed both decisions and effectively abrogated the laws in holding that both violated federal constitutional law pursuant to a 1992 US Supreme Court [official website] ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey [materials, PDF]. The Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website] called the laws "intrusive" and praised [press release] the court's decisions. However, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt [official website] took issue [press release] with the decisions, especially the abrogation of HB 1970:

We disagree with the court’s decision ... There is overwhelming evidence that the off-label use of abortion-inducing drugs leads to serious infections and death for many healthy, unsuspecting women. This is not OK. Our job is to protect the citizens of Oklahoma ...
Pruitt, who appealed the district court decisions in early and late June [JURIST reports], also stated that his office is considering an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Oklahoma has been at the center of controversy recently regarding reproductive rights [JURIST backgrounder]. The Oklahoma law restricting the use of abortion-inducing drugs was scheduled to take effect on November 1, 2011, but was temporarily blocked [JURIST report] in October. In April 2011 Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law [JURIST report] a bill prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks. The law allows abortions past the 20-week mark only in certain extenuating circumstances where the mother faces death or serious injury. A doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the time limit would be subject to criminal prosecution for a felony, but the woman undergoing the procedure would not face a penalty. Last year an Oklahoma state judge extended a temporary injunction [JURIST report] blocking enforcement of HB 2780.

 

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