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Okla. Supreme Court strikes down abortion restrictions

October 5, 2016 — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday in a 9-0 ruling struck down a state law (SB 642) that imposed multiple restrictions on abortion providers and women seeking care, AP/ABC News reports (AP/ABC News, 10/4).

Law details

The law 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 expanded on an existing prohibition on minors' access to abortion. It also mandated 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 required the Oklahoma Department of Health to implement policies that grant broad authority to enter and examine abortion facilities for inspections related to clinic licensure. Further, the law created civil and criminal penalties, in addition to civil liability, for violating antiabortion-rights requirements.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Larry Burns, an abortion provider in Norman, Oklahoma. The lawsuit said the law violates the state constitution, which mandates that legislation cover only one subject (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/27/15).

Ruling details

In the unanimous ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed that the law was in violation of the state constitution because it contained multiple unrelated subjects. "We find that each of the four sections of Senate Bill 642 lack a common purpose and are not germane, relative and cognitive," the justices wrote, adding, "Although each section relates in some way to abortion, the broad sweep of each section does not cure the single subject defects in this bill" (Hoberock, Tulsa World, 10/4).

Further, the court stated that the law imposed "undue burdens on access to abortion under the guise of protecting the health of women."

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup praised the ruling. "Today's decision is a critical victory for Oklahoma women and their doctors, who will no longer face the threat of criminal prosecution simply for providing safe and legal health care to their patients," she said, adding, "This law was nothing but a cynical attack on women's health and rights by unjustly targeting their trusted health care providers."

Further, noting that CRR has challenged abortion restrictions in the state eight times, Northup added, "[CRR] has a 100 percent success rate for concluded cases challenging Oklahoma restrictions on reproductive health care services" (Green, The Oklahoman, 10/4).