Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, challenging teen abortion legislation that fails to protect the most vulnerable adolescents in the state. The act, set to go into effect as soon as Governor Brad Henry signs it into law, requires physicians to notify a parent or legal guardian at least 48 hours before a woman under 18 years old receives an abortion.
But authors of the bill neglected to provide sufficient protections for those teens who cannot involve a parent. For example, a teen who comes from a home where physical or emotional abuse is prevalent can seek court authorization for an abortion, but could be forced to wait indefinitely for a court decision. The legislation harms adolescents who cannot turn to a parent and therefore, must turn to the courts by subjecting them to potential delays that put their health at risk or even prevent them from obtaining an abortion at all.
"This law speaks volumes about the priorities of the Oklahoma legislature and governor. These politicians would sooner turn their backs on the most vulnerable teens by passing a bill limiting their access to abortion than pass legislation that actually protects their health," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Tulsa clinic, Nova Health Systems, dba Reproductive Services, arguing that the legislation is unconstitutional and its enforcement could result in irreparable harm to Reproductive Services' patients.
"Our client, Reproductive Services, already strongly encourages all of its young patients to involve a parent before having an abortion-and in fact, most of them do. This legislation treats the patients who cannot safely rely on their parents unfairly and unlawfully," said Bebe Anderson, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
As the lawsuit outlines, the Supreme Court has emphasized that "time is of particular significance" in court authorization procedures for minors. Typically, teenagers wait longer than adult women to obtain abortions. Often they are unable to recognize that they are pregnant due to irregular menstrual periods or they have difficulty raising the money for the surgery. Although abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures, these delays increase the operation's medical risks.
The Center for Reproductive Rights is also challenging Oklahoma's 2001 parental consent law on behalf of Reproductive Services. A federal court struck that law down as unconstitutional in 2002, but the case is currently in the appeals process. The new legislation introduces additional requirements for minors seeking an abortion, including a mandatory 48-hour delay, the suit challenges only the parental notification provisions.
The plaintiff in the case is represented by attorneys Bebe Anderson and Galen Sherwin of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and M.M. Hardwick of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Learn more about the Center's work with adolescents' reproductive rights.