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Okla. Supreme Court Upholds Lower Court Decision Against Antiabortion Ultrasound Law

Okla. Supreme Court Upholds Lower Court Decision Against Antiabortion Ultrasound Law

March 4, 2010 — The Oklahoma Supreme Court has upheld a lower court's decision that a 2008 state law (SB1878) with several antiabortion provisions is unconstitutional because it covers more than one subject, the Oklahoman reports (Bisbee, Oklahoman, 3/4). The law would have required an ultrasound before an abortion and would limit women's access to mifepristone, which is used in medical abortion (AP/NewsOn6.com, 3/4). In addition, the law would have required physicians to provide women with detailed information about the ultrasound image, including descriptions of any developing organs and extremities, even if they objected. The law also would have prohibited "wrongful life" lawsuits in certain circumstances.

The law passed in 2008 but never took effect because of legal action. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Tulsa, Okla., clinic arguing that the law violated the state constitution's "single-subject" rule and infringed on women's privacy rights, violated their dignity and endangered their health. The suit also said that the law was unconstitutionally vague and unclear about what doctors should tell women (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/19/09). In August 2009, Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the single-subject rule.

In an opinion issued late Tuesday, the state Supreme Court said, "We are growing weary of admonishing the Legislature for so flagrantly violating the terms of the Oklahoma Constitution. It is a waste of time for the Legislature and the Court, and a waste of the taxpayers' money."

State lawmakers already have filed separate bills that include the same provisions as the 2008 law, and the state House on Tuesday advanced a bill that would require ultrasounds before abortions, the Oklahoman reports (Oklahoman, 3/4).

Oklahoma House Passes Abortion Reporting Bill

Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday voted 85-8 to approve a bill (HB 3284) that would require physicians to provide the Oklahoma Health Department with detailed information about women seeking abortions, including their age, marital status and education level, the Oklahoman reports. The bill includes much of the same language as a 2009 law (HB 1595) that an Oklahoma County judge struck down in February for violating the single-subject rule.

The new bill would require the health department to post the information on its Web site. It also would require the department to implement a system allowing abortion providers to complete and electronically submit the data each year, the Oklahoman reports. State Rep. Pam Peterson (R), the bill's author, said that the cost of gathering and posting the information is estimated at $45,250.

State Rep. Ryan Kiesel (D), who voted against the measure, said he is not sure if that estimate is accurate, noting that the 2009 law was estimated to cost more than $250,000. He also said that the department already compiles similar information and that the questions are invasive and irrelevant. "At the end of the day, it's not going to prevent a single abortion," Kiesel said, adding, "It's going to sound good on a campaign flyer. That's it." Kiesel also expressed concern that the information would not remain confidential (McNutt, Oklahoman, 3/4).