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Okla. judge rules admitting privileges law constitutional

February 12, 2016 — An Oklahoma district judge on Thursday ruled that a state law (SB 1848) requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is constitutional, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

In the ruling, District Judge Don Andrews said the Oklahoma Supreme Court's temporary injunction will remain in place (Talley, AP/Sacramento Bee, 2/11).

Background

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit against the statute on behalf of Larry Burns, an abortion provider who owns the Abortion Surgery Center in Norman, Oklahoma. According to the lawsuit, the law would force Burns to close the clinic because he has not been able to meet the admitting privileges requirement after applying at 16 hospitals. Burns performs about 44% of abortion procedures in the state.

In October 2014, Oklahoma County District Court Judge Bill Graves ruled the admitting privileges law could take effect. CRR appealed to the state Supreme Court.

In November 2014, the Oklahoma Supreme Court temporarily blocked enforcement of the law, which had taken effect earlier that month. In an unanimous decision, the court wrote that the law would remain on hold until it is "fully and finally litigated." They noted that the decision was not an opinion on the legality of the law.

In July last year, Andrews said more information was needed to answer questions presented in the lawsuit, effectively leaving in place the injunction against the law until at least 2016 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/14/15).

Ruling details

In Thursday's ruling, Andrews rejected CRR's argument that the law is unconstitutional and designed to close abortion clinics.

Andrews also rejected CRR's statements regarding Burns' efforts to get admitting privileges at local hospitals, contending that the plaintiff could comply with the requirement in other ways. According to the AP/Bee,court filings state that Burns' application for admitting privileges has been rejected by at least two hospitals because Burns could not commit to admitting the required number of patients per year. Burns said he has applied for privileges at several hospitals in the area but has yet to be granted approval by any one of them.

In addition, Andrews rejected CRR's argument that the law involves several different subjects, despite requirements in the state constitution that legislation pertain to only one subject. Andrews stated that all of the subjects included in the law related to the regulation of abortion clinics.

Appeal expected

CRR CEO Nancy Northrup said the organization plans to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. "Politicians across the country have made it their mission to cut off women's access to essential reproductive health care under the guise of protecting their health," she said, noting that forcing abortion clinics to close constitutes a direct threat to women's health (AP/Sacramento Bee, 2/11).