Oklahoma Supreme Court Confirms Unconstitutional State Law Acts as a Total Ban on All Medication Abortion

Ruling is in response to request from U.S. Supreme Court

(PRESS RELEASE) In answering certified questions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has definitively ruled today that the state’s restrictions on medication abortion are unconstitutional because the law “restricts the long-respected medical discretion of physicians” and effectively bans medication abortions and the non-surgical treatment of women with ectopic pregnancies.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today’s decision from the Oklahoma Supreme Court strongly reaffirms that this blatantly unconstitutional law was designed to not only rob women of the safe, legal, and effective option of medication to end a pregnancy at its earliest stages, but also threaten the health, lives, and future fertility of women suffering from ectopic pregnancies.

“In passing this law, politicians cast aside women’s constitutional rights along with years of research, evidence-based medicine, and doctors’ practical experience. Physicians know better than politicians what’s right for their patients, and medical decisions should be made according to their advice and expertise, not any politician’s ideological agenda to ban abortion.

“We are confident that the nation’s highest court will respect the constitutional rights of women and 40 years of precedent by allowing the state court’s decision to strike down this cruel ban on medication abortion to stand and once again ensure critical protections for reproductive rights in the United States.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge in October 2011 to block a state law that would have prohibited safe, effective, and medically-proven use of medications to terminate a woman’s pregnancy.

The law was permanently struck down by a district court judge in May 2012, with the Oklahoma Supreme Court upholding the lower court’s ruling in December 2012. State officials petitioned the U.S Supreme Court, which agreed to review the case but asked that the Oklahoma Supreme Court first give a definitive ruling about the scope of the law. Today’s ruling makes clear that the law is a complete ban on medication abortion and a ban on the most commonly used treatment for ectopic pregnancies: “H.B. 1970 effectively bans all medication abortions.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will now decide whether it will continue to hear the case in light of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling today (PDF attached).

Women in the United States have been safely and legally using medication abortion for over a decade. In fact, one in four women who make the decision to end a pregnancy in the first nine weeks choose this method. Studies show medication abortion is a safe and effective alternative to surgical abortion, as a woman is treated by medical professionals to whom she has access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Furthermore, the most commonly used treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is banned by this law. 

The Center filed the lawsuit, Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice et al., v. Terry Cline, et al., on behalf of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to ensuring the availability of the full range of reproductive health care services to women throughout the state, and Nova Health Systems, a non-profit reproductive health care facility located in Tulsa.

Michelle Movahed, staff attorney at the Center, represents the plaintiffs in the case along with co-counsel attorneys Anne Zachritz in Oklahoma City, OK, Martha Hardwick in Pauls Valley, OK, and E. Joshua Rosenkranz and Eric A. Shumsky of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in New York.