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Okla. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments over Antiabortion-Rights Law

October 14, 2015 — An Oklahoma Supreme Court referee on Tuesday heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law (SB 642) that imposes multiple restrictions on abortion providers and patients, AP/KJRH reports (AP/KJRH, 10/13).

Background

The law, scheduled to go into effect Nov. 1, encompasses four abortion-related measures, including required parental consent for minors receiving abortions, preservation of fetal tissue, investigations into abortion clinics and enforcement of penalties for abortion providers.

The law expands on an existing prohibition on minors' access to abortion. It also mandates that abortion providers preserve fetal tissue from abortions obtained by minors under age 14 and give the tissue samples to the State Bureau of Investigation. In addition, the law requires the Oklahoma Department of Health to implement policies that grant broad authority to enter and examine abortion facilities for inspections related to clinic licensure. The law creates civil and criminal penalties, in addition to civil liability, for violating antiabortion-rights requirements.

CRR filed a lawsuit on behalf of Larry Burns, an abortion provider in Norman, Okla. According to the lawsuit, the law violates the state constitution, which mandates that legislation cover only one subject (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/28).

Argument Details

During oral arguments on Tuesday, CRR attorney Ilene Jaroslaw said SB 642 should be overturned because it violates the state constitution's single-subject rule.

She said the law was "classic logrolling," noting that the bill "has four distinct subjects. It amends one law and creates three entirely different new laws." Jaroslaw added, "This Supreme Court has held that it's not enough to say four subjects all have something to do with a broad and sweeping matter, such as abortion or freedom of conscience."

Meanwhile, state Assistant Solicitor General Sarah Greenwalt argued that SB 642 does not violate the single-subject rule because each provision deals with enforcing state reproductive health laws. She also disputed CRR's arguments about the urgency of the case, saying it was not necessary for the state Supreme Court to have "original jurisdiction" over the lawsuit.

Next Steps

According to AP/KRJH, the state Supreme Court referee, Barbara Swimley, will prepare a memo on the lawsuit and present it to the state justices. Based on the memo, the Oklahoma Supreme Court could request further oral arguments or rule on the case immediately (AP/KJRH, 10/13).

Meanwhile, another abortion provider -- Reproductive Services in Tulsa, Okla. -- on Wednesday will present arguments to an Oklahoma County district judge in a separate challenge to laws restricting access to abortions in the state. Those laws impose a 72-hour mandatory delay before abortions (HB 1409) and prohibit physicians from performing a certain abortion procedure (HB 1721) (Hoberock, Tulsa World, 10/14).