Oklahoma law forces physicians to lie to patients about abortion, violating medical ethics and free speech
(PRESS RELEASE)—Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma state court on behalf of abortion providers in the state. The lawsuit challenges an Oklahoma law forcing doctors to tell patients that medication abortion (abortion by pills) can be “reversed”—a false claim unsupported by scientific evidence. This false information must be relayed to the patient 72 hours before their medication abortion appointment, or physicians can be charged with a felony.
The Center is asking the court to block the law (S.B. 614) before it takes effect on November 1, 2019. Earlier this month, a federal court blocked a similar law from taking effect in North Dakota.
“Forcing doctors to lie to their patients violates their free speech and the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There is no medical evidence to support so-called ‘abortion reversal,’ and it’s reckless to suggest otherwise. We cannot have patients making healthcare decisions based on false information.”
In addition to conveying this false information orally, abortion providers must also inform patients of a website and 24-hour hotline for Heartbeat International’s “Abortion Pill Reversal Network”. Providers must also post signage in their health centers with the network’s contact information, and directly give it to patients again following their appointment. Physicians who violates the law are guilty of a felony, and clinics will face a $10,000 fine per day for failure to display the required signs.
The lawsuit argues that this law violates the Oklahoma constitution’s free speech protections by forcing physicians to convey false information and non-medical statements with which they disagree. Just last term, the U.S. Supreme Court held in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra that the government cannot regulate the speech of medical professionals to advance controversial ideas or to discriminate based on the content and/or viewpoint of the speaker.
Eight states have now passed laws requiring abortion providers to tell patients about so-called abortion “reversal,” with five of those laws passed in 2019. The eight states with these laws on the books include: Arkansas; Idaho; Kentucky; North Dakota; South Dakota; Oklahoma; Nebraska; and Utah. These laws are opposed by medical experts, including the AMA and the American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). ACOG has referred to these bills as “based on unproven, unethical research” and “dangerous to women’s health.”
Only four health centers provide abortion services in the entire state of Oklahoma. In addition to the law challenged in this suit, Oklahoma has passed many other abortion restrictions, including: a parental consent requirement for minors; a ban on the use of telemedicine to prescribe pills for medication abortion; and restrictions on when private, public and state health insurance plans can cover abortion care. These laws disproportionately affect populations that already experience barriers to health care, including people of color, immigrants and people with low incomes. The Center is currently challenging two other Oklahoma laws–a law banning the standard abortion procedure after about 14 weeks of pregnancy, and another law that forces patients to wait 72 hours to access abortion.
You can read the full complaint for this case [HERE].
This case was filed by Steven Reiss, John Mastando III, Eileen Citron, Denisse Velarde-Cubek, Audra Sawyer, and Ariane Moss from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP; Gail Deady and Kirby Tyrell from the Center for Reproductive Rights; and J. Blake Patton from Walding & Patton on behalf of Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, LLC and Dr. Alan Braid.
Kelly Krause, [email protected], 917-637-3649