OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – An Oklahoma state judge refused to block two longstanding laws Friday that limit access to abortions by banning advanced practice registered nurses from giving such care and banning doctors from doing so with telemedicine.
Oklahoma County District Judge Natalie Mai rejected two motions for preliminary injunction filed by the non-profit Center for Reproductive Rights.
The abortion-rights group sued in November, challenging the state’s 1978 “physician-only” abortion law and a 2012 “physician in-person” law on behalf of the South Wind Women’s Center in Oklahoma City, one of the clinic’s doctors and one of its nurse practitioners.
It is the sixth lawsuit the non-profit has filed against Oklahoma in five years as it seeks to expand access to abortions in the Republican-led state.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter thanked the judge for her “thoughtful review and decision,” saying it “stays faithful to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeated assertion that there is ‘no doubt’ that these types of laws are reasonable and constitutional ‘to ensure the safety of the abortion procedure.’”
“This is an extreme lawsuit, seeking to overthrow commonsense safety laws that have been on the books for half a century combined,” Hunter said after the hearing. “Abortion advocates used to say that abortion should be between a woman and her doctor, but now they are attempting to take the doctor out of the room and out of the picture altogether.”
The plaintiffs disagree, claiming the laws violate the Oklahoma Constitution as “special” laws – not general laws – that single out doctors and APRNs who give abortion care and also single out abortion patients.
“Oklahoma’s Physician-Only Law is not reasonably and substantially related to any valid legislative objective,” the complaint said. “Like the Physician In-Person Law, the Physician-Only Law was supported by no legislative findings when it was enacted. The Physician-Only Law also is unsupported by sound medical evidence.”
Hunter disagrees, telling the judge the Oklahoma Supreme Court “has never found an abortion regulation to be a special law.” He also denied that APRNs are singled out, stating the law “treats APRNs the same as every other” non-doctor wanting to perform an abortion.
“Nothing about limiting abortion to physicians is arbitrary, nor to ARPNs stand in ‘precisely the same relation’ to the performance of abortion as physicians,” the state’s 33-page brief states. “Their education is less, their scope of practice is narrower, and their independence is restricted.”
The plaintiffs argue the use of telemedicine would increase the number of days the clinic could provide abortion care and decrease patient wait times.
Eighteen states currently have laws banning the use of telemedicine for prescribing abortion pills. Thirty-four states currently have “physician-only” laws.
The Center for Reproductive Rights did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Friday evening.
It has said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association and the World Health Organization have each concluded that physician-only laws are “medically unfounded.”
Hunter said Friday his defense of the laws is supported by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Association of Nurse Practitioners and the Telehealth Alliance of Oklahoma, among others.