National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Supreme Court To Review Okla. Medication Abortion Law, Asks State Court for Clarification

Supreme Court To Review Okla. Medication Abortion Law, Asks State Court for Clarification

June 28, 2013 — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to review an Oklahoma medication abortion law (HB 1970), pending clarification from the Oklahoma Supreme Court on its understanding of the statute, the Wall Street Journal reports (Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 6/27). Depending on the state court's response, the high court could drop the case or decide to intervene (Eckholm, New York Times, 6/27).

The state Supreme Court in December upheld a lower court ruling that struck down the 2011 law. The law requires physicians who offer medication abortion to conduct examinations of patients, document certain medical conditions and schedule follow-up appointments. It also mandates that physicians follow FDA guidelines on medication abortion, rather than guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Abortion Federation that currently are used (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5/12).

The U.S. Supreme Court took no action on a separate Oklahoma measure (HB 2780) that requires women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, which the high court also was asked to consider (Casteel, The Oklahoman, 6/27). The state Supreme Court's December ruling also upheld a lower court decision voiding the ultrasound law (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5/12).

Key Issues

According to the Los Angeles Times' "Politics Now," the case ultimately involves defining the meaning of the Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which said that state abortion regulations may not place an "undue burden" on patients or doctors. However, the ruling did not specify which types of regulations are permissible (Savage, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/27).

In their request to the Oklahoma court, the Supreme Court justices asked whether the state judges thought the law bars the use of the abortion drug misoprostol, even when physicians follow FDA protocol. They also asked whether the state measure prevents physicians from using the cancer drug methotrexate to treat ectopic pregnancies (Stohr, Bloomberg Businessweek, 6/27).