Oklahoma District Court Greenlights Texas-Style Clinic Shutdown Law

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Center for Reproductive Rights plans immediate appeal to the state Supreme Court
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(PRESS RELEASE) A state court judge today failed to block an Oklahoma measure specifically designed to shut down abortion clinics under the guise of protecting women’s health—threatening to shutter one of only two safe and legal abortion providers in the state.

Senate Bill 1848 was signed by Governor Mary Fallin in May 2014 and forces reproductive health care clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital on-site when abortion procedures are performed. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights—which filed a legal challenge against the measure in 2014—is planning an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to ensure that the physician providing nearly half of the abortion services in the state can continue providing safe and legal care, the clinic shutdown law will not take effect due to a 2014 ruling from the same court blocking the measure while the litigation continues.

“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,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

“Whether in Oklahoma, Texas or elsewhere, clinic shutdown laws are unconstitutional and a direct threat to women’s health.  Today’s ruling turns a blind eye to the very real harms that will befall Oklahoma women if this measure takes effect.

“We vow to appeal today’s ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and continue to stand against these sham laws.”

Today’s ruling comes three months after the Supreme Court agreed to review Texas’s clinic shutdown law— a measure that has already shuttered half of the abortion providers in Texas, and is poised to leave the nation’s second-largest state with 10 or fewer abortion clinics.

Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, with less than a quarter of 1 percent of patients experiencing a major complication. Furthermore, privileges can be very difficult to obtain due to individual hospital policies or biases against abortion providers for reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications. Last month, the nation’s leading medical experts--including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as organizations representing pediatricians, nurses, family physicians, osteopaths, hospitalists and public health specialists—united in opposition to clinic shutdown laws like Oklahoma’s in amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to reject Texas’ clinic shutdown law.  Similarly, the Oklahoma State Medical Association specifically opposed Oklahoma’s clinic shutdown law, warning that it “may not reflect the best interest of the patient.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care in Oklahoma eight times in five years, including a measure which forces women to delay constitutionally protected health care by at least 72 hours and a ban on the most common method of second trimester abortion.  A state court judge blocked the ban in late 2015, but allowed the waiting period to take effect. 

Clinic shutdown laws have swept the South in recent years, threatening to further devastate abortion access in a region already facing limited availability of reproductive health care services.  The last abortion clinic in Mississippi is awaiting a decision on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review its state’s clinic shutdown while courts have blocked similar measures in Louisiana,Tennessee, Alabama, Wisconsin and Kansas. 

Ilene Jaroslaw and Genevieve Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Blake Patton of Walding &, Patton and Martha Hardwick of Hardwick Law Office, represent Larry A. Burns, D.O. in this challenge—a physician with over 41 years of experience providing safe abortion care in Norman, Oklahoma.

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