OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - A judge upheld an Oklahoma law Thursday requiring a doctor with admitting privileges to a local hospital to be present during abortions - but the state Supreme Court's stay on its enforcement remains in effect.
Oklahoma County Judge Don Andrews granted Oklahoma's motion for summary judgment and rejected plaintiff Dr. Larry A. Burns' request for partial summary judgment.
Andrews wrote that the state "has a legitimate, constitutionally recognized interest in protecting women's health."
"Requiring physicians to maintain admitting privileges to a hospital furthers that interest inasmuch as the physician must demonstrate competency in the surgical procedures that they perform," the 11-page opinion states.
"It is rational for the Legislature to conclude that this requirement would advance the state's compelling interest in patient care and safety. Oklahoma's Constitution does not forbid the Legislature from taking rational, reasonable steps toward improved patient care and safety."
Andrews said the purpose of Oklahoma Senate Bill 1848 "is not to place an obstacle between a woman and her ability to receive an abortion. Rather, it is a protection mechanism to ensure that she receives prompt and efficient health care, when necessary."
Dr. Burns, of Norman, says he performs half of the abortions in Oklahoma. Represented by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, he sued the state in October 2014, saying that S.B. 1848 would effectively put him out of business.
Andrews rejected Burns procedural due process claim, saying the doctor had 155 days between passage of S.B. 1848 and its enactment to satisfy the law's admitting privilege requirement.
"Moreover, the plaintiff's failure to receive admitting privileges is unrelated to the Legislature's proscibed period of time to comply," the opinion states. "Plaintiff also asserts that he is prevented from seeking review of the hospital's decision not to grant admitting privileges. However, since hospitals are private entities, plaintiff is not entitled to due process regarding their decision."
Andrews also rejected Burns' due process claims on the right to an abortion, saying the Oklahoma Supreme Court has declined to find a state constitutional right to abortion, so he must rely upon federal law.
"Following 'strict scrutiny' analysis under federal standards, S.B. 1848 is permissible because it does not place an 'undue burden' on a woman's ability to have an abortion, but advances the state's legitimate interest of promoting patient health and safety," the opinion states."
However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court's stay, preventing S.B. 1848 from taking, effect remains in place.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he was "pleased that the court agreed" the law is constitutional.
"The law requires abortion facilities to follow health and safety protocols similar to those for outpatient surgical centers and birthing centers," Pruitt said in a statement. "The attorney general's office will continue to defend this law and others enacted to protect Oklahomans' health and safety."
The Center for Reproductive Rights said it would appeal, calling S.B. 1848 a "Texas-style clinic shutdown law."
The center's president and CEO, Nancy Northrup, said the ruling "turns a blind eye to the very real harms" that will affect Oklahoma women when the law takes effect.
"Whether in Oklahoma, Texas or elsewhere, clinic shutdown laws are unconstitutional and a direct threat to women's health," Northrup said in a statement. "We vow to appeal today's ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and continue to stand against these sham laws." Burns filed a separate lawsuit against the state in November 2015, challenging S.B. 642 , which imposes felony penalties on abortion providers if they help minors get abortions without parental consent, among other things.
Burns claims that four differing provisions in the law have a "hodgepot character" that violates the state constitution's single-subject mandate.
State District Judge Thomas E. Prince rejected Burns' motion for summary judgment in January, concluding that each section was "germane" to the law's title and relative to one another.