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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Doctor Sues Okla. for Criminalizing Abortion

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - A new Oklahoma law that imposes criminal penalties on abortion providers is illegal because it violates the state constitution's single-subject mandate, a doctor claims in court.

Dr. Larry A. Burns, of Norman, sued Commissioner of Health Terry L. Cline and Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn in Oklahoma County Court on Tuesday, challenging against Senate Bill 642.

The law was to take effect on Nov. 1, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court barred its enforcement last week and gave Burns' attorneys with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights 30 days to sue. The high court declined to rule on the law's constitutionality, leaving the matter to a trial court.

Burns cites four provision in H.B. 642. Section 1 levies criminal and civil penalties for helping a minor get an abortion without parental consent; Section 2 requires girls younger than 14 to submit fetal tissue samples to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for rape investigation; Section 3 allows the Department of Health to conduct unannounced searches of abortion facilities; and Section 4 deems anyone who violates S.B. 642 guilty of a felony, punishable by fines of up $100,000 per day of violation.

Burns says the law has a "hodgepodge character" because it was lifted from model legislation in the annual report of Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group.

"The act clearly violates the single-subject rule because it encompasses four different subjects," the states. "These multiple subjects are not germane, relative and cognate to a readily apparent common theme and purpose. Although each provision relates to regulated abortion directly or tangentially, a legislator could reasonably be in favor of tissue prevention for statutory rape investigations, without supporting a potentially draconian expansion of criminal and civil liability for physicians and office staff employed by abortion facilities. Thus, the passage of S.B. 642 was the result of classic logrolling, in violation of the single-subject mandate of the Constitution."

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the law a "cynical and politically motivated" attack on women's health.

"Oklahoma women already face significant obstacles when seeking safe and legal abortion, the last thing they need is another measure criminalizing their doctors and pushing essential health care further out of reach," Northup said in a statement. "We will continue to stand with Oklahoma women and their trusted health care providers to fight back against these cruel and unconstitutional attacks."

Burns seeks declaratory and injunctive relief voiding S.B. 642. He is represented by J. Black Patton with Walding Patton in Oklahoma City and Ilene Jaroslaw with the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has sued Oklahoma at least eight times since 2010 over abortion restrictions, including a lawsuit against a law banning the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

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