Oklahoma Supreme Court Fails to Permanently Block State’s Unconstitutional Restrictions on Medication Abortion

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Measure will remain blocked while litigation continues
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(PRESS RELEASE) The Oklahoma Supreme Court today failed to permanently block a state law restricting access to a non-surgical method of ending a pregnancy in its earliest stages, instead sending the case back to a lower court for review.  Due to a previous ruling from the same court, the measure will remain blocked while the litigation continues in state district court. 

Although he joined the majority, one justice chose to issue a concurring opinion which notes the grave overreach of Oklahoma politicians in passing this measure:  “Once again, those who do not practice medicine have determined to insert themselves between physicians and their patients, with the insistence they know what is best when it comes to the standard of care.” 

 “Oklahoma women should never be denied a safe way to end a pregnancy because politicians in their state are fixated on eliminating legal abortion,” said Autumn Katz, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Oklahoma politicians continue to ignore medical evidence and the very real harms that will befall women in the state if they are unable to access safe and legal care. 

“We vow to stand with Oklahoma women in the face of these unconstitutional attempts to rob them of their health, their rights, and their dignity.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged Oklahoma’s restrictions on non-surgical abortion in September 2014—restrictions that would force physicians to treat women seeking medication abortion according to an outdated method that is less safe, less effective, and more expensive than the evidence-based methods most doctors currently use.  The measure—which was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin in April 2014—also bans all medication abortions after 49 days of pregnancy, forcing women to undergo a surgical procedure when they otherwise would have the option of a safe abortion using medications alone. 

A state court judge failed to block the measure in late October 2014, but the state Supreme Court stepped in shortly thereafter and blocked the measure from taking effect while the legal challenge continued.

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 three days and a ban on the most common method of second trimester abortion.  A state court judge blocked the ban in 2015, but allowed the mandatory delay to take effect.  The Center is also challenging the state’s Texas-style clinic shutdown law and currently planning to appeal a ruling from earlier this month which permanently failed to block the measure.

Autumn Katz and Zoe Levine of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Blake Patton of Walding &, Patton, and Martha Hardwick of Hardwick Law Office represent Nova Health Systems d/b/a Reproductive Services—a non-profit reproductive health care facility in Tulsa—and 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 in this challenge. 

Women in the United States have been safely and legally using medication abortion for over a decade, with one in four women who make the decision to end a pregnancy in the first nine weeks choosing this method.  Major medical groups oppose laws like Oklahoma’s which severely restrict access to medication abortion.  Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG) have submitted amicus briefs opposing similar restrictions in Arizona and Texas.  These types of restrictions ignore years of doctor’s practical experience and scientific advancement, forcing providers to prescribe the medications with an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol.

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