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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Oklahoma Judge OKs|Criminal Abortion Law

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - An Oklahoma law that imposes criminal penalties on abortion providers is permissible under the state constitution, a state judge ruled Wednesday.

State District Judge Thomas E. Prince dismissed Dr. Larry A. Burns' motion for summary judgment and granted Commissioner of Health Terry L. Cline and Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn's cross-motion for summary judgment.

Burns sued in November in Oklahoma County Court, claiming Senate Bill 642 violates the Oklahoma Constitution's single-subject mandate.

He called the law a result of " classic log-rolling " that forces legislators to vote for unwanted provisions to get another provision enacted.

Burns says the bill's four differing provisions give it a "hodgepot character."

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;

Section 4 deems anyone who violates S.B. 642 guilty of a felony, punishable by fines of up $100,000 per day of violation.

But Judge Prince found each sections "germane" to the law's title and relative to each other.

"The title of Senate Bill 642 states its subject to be as follows: 'Abortion procedure compliance requirements,'" the 4-page ruling states. "A review of the plain meaning of the four sections of Senate Bill 642 shows that each provision 'reflect[s] a common, closely akin theme or purpose' intended to expand the available enforcement mechanisms for redress of violations of the various laws that regulate abortions."

Prince said the claim of "log-rolling" cannot be separated from this "germaneness" test.

"The Oklahoma Supreme Court has consistently described the term 'log-rolling' as a tactical legislative maneuver that applies or is applicable only in the event that the 'germaneness' test (for the single-subject rule) has been violated," the judge wrote. "Because the court has determined that the 'germaneness' test has been satisfied, the plaintiff's claim of 'log-rolling' is, correspondingly, rejected."

The Oklahoma Supreme Court's Nov. 16 stay on enforcement of the law, pending further order of the state supreme court, is unaffected by Wednesday's order, Prince said.

Burns is represented by attorneys with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which has sued Oklahoma at least eight times since 2010 over its abortion restrictions . Group president and CEO Nancy Northup in November called the law a "cynical and politically motivated" attack on women's health.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he was "pleased" with the court's ruling, and that S.B. 642 was "designed to put teeth" into the state's abortion laws.

"There is a serious need to provide stronger tools to enforce existing abortion law," Pruitt said in a statement Friday. "Just last year, an abortion doctor was arrested for prescribing abortion-inducing drugs to women who were not actually pregnant."

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