WHAT HAPPENED: Late yesterday, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a challenge against Oklahoma legislation which prohibits a woman from getting an abortion unless she first has an ultrasound and listens to her doctor describe in detail the ultrasound image. At the same time, the law prevents a woman from suing her doctor if he or she intentionally withholds other information about the fetus, such as a severe developmental defect. The statute also requires doctors to use a specific regimen for administering the medical abortion pill, despite that regimen being less effective and more costly than the one strongly recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The Center filed the lawsuit in the District Court of Oklahoma County, State of Oklahoma on behalf of Nova Health Systems, dba Reproductive Services in Tulsa. The case is called Nova Health Systems v. Brad Henry.
WHAT CRR ARGUES: The Center for Reproductive Rights argues that the Oklahoma law profoundly intrudes upon a patient's privacy, endangers her health, and assaults her dignity. Specifically, the statute prevents a woman's doctor from using his or her own medical judgment for treatment. It also dangerously discounts a woman's abilities to make healthy decisions about her own life by either forcing her to hear information when she's objected, or allowing a doctor to keep information from her without her input.
"Anti-choice activists will stop at nothing to prevent a woman from getting an abortion, but trying to manipulate a woman's decisions about her own life and health goes beyond the pale," said Stephanie Toti, staff attorney in the U.S. Legal Program of the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney on the case. "Governments should stop playing doctor and leave medical determinations to physicians and health decisions to individuals."
WHY THE CASE IS IMPORTANT: In Oklahoma, if this law is enforced, Reproductive Services will be forced to close down. The clinic provides more than 200 women abortion services a month. If it shuts down, that means more than 2000 women a year throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states will have no access to abortion.
Nationally, this case has implications because the law at issue is among the first signs that anti-choice legislatures are beginning to take cues from last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." Should this law be upheld, it could encourage copycat legislation around the country. In Gonzales v. Carhart, a case argued by the Center, the majority reasoned, "[w]hile we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptional to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow." The argument opened the door to measures based on the assertion that a woman lacks the judgment and independence necessary to make a responsible decision about her own pregnancy, and that abortion causes a woman to suffer mental and physical side effects-a claim recently refuted by an American Psychological Association study. No other state in the country requires a woman to hear the description of an ultrasound image, and Ohio is the only other state that has prohibited use of the ACOG-recommended regimen for medical abortion. Ohio's law is currently being challenged in federal court.