Docket for Supreme Court's New Term Includes Okla. Medication Abortion Law

October 7, 2013 — In the new term that begins today, the Supreme Court's docket includes a case that involves an Oklahoma law (HB 1970) restricting the use of medication abortion, the New York Times reports (Liptak, New York Times, 10/7). 

According to the Los Angeles Times, this new term "gives the court's conservative bloc a clear opportunity to shift the law to the right on touchstone social issues such as abortion, contraception and religion" (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 10/6). The New York Times reports, "An unusually large number of new cases put important precedents at risk, many in areas of the law the court has been rapidly revising since the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor." O'Connor -- who was at the court's ideological center and helped shape rulings on abortion, race, religion and the role of money in politics -- was succeeded by the "more conservative" Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 (New York Times, 10/7).

Oklahoma's Medication Abortion Law

In June, the Supreme Court also agreed to review an Oklahoma medication abortion law, pending clarification from the Oklahoma Supreme Court on its understanding of the statute. Depending on the state court's response, the high court could drop the case or decide to intervene.

The law -- among other abortion restrictions -- requires physicians to follow FDA guidance on medication abortion, rather than guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Abortion Federation that currently are used. In their request to the Oklahoma court, the Supreme Court justices asked whether the state judges thought the law bars 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/28).

According to the New York Times, the Supreme Court -- once its questions of the lower court are answered -- "may well modify its understanding of one of Justice O'Connor's central legacies, Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992," which "reaffirmed the core of Roe v. Wade ... and prohibited laws placing an 'undue burden' on women's access to abortion" (New York Times, 10/7).