Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Abortion Law

Kelsey Jukam

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a law requiring doctors at clinics that provide abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, echoing a U.S. Supreme Court decision this year that struck down a similar law in Texas.

Oklahoma Senate Bill 1848 requires abortion facilities to have a doctor with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles on any day an abortion is performed.

Justice Joseph Watt, writing for the court, said the law places an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s access to abortion “under the guise of the protection of women’s health.”

“Every woman in this country has a constitutionally protected right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy before viability,” Watt said. “This right is protected from undue interference from the State.”

Tuesday’s ruling overturns a district court ruling in February upholding the law signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2014.

Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns, who performs nearly half of Oklahoma’s abortions, according to The Associated Press.

Burns applied to at least 16 hospitals for admitting privileges, but either received no response or was rejected, because his specialty does not have a recognized board certification, and he was unable to meet the requirement of admitting the minimum number of six patients per year, according to the state supreme court.

“Paradoxically his pristine medical record renders him ineligible under the hospital’s yearly minimum in-patient admission requirement,” Watt wrote for the court.

After a nearly identical law passed in Texas in 2013, the number of abortion facilities in the state dropped by half.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that such a reduction placed an undue and unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortion.

“The medical statistics reflected how safe the procedure is and, further, that admitting privileges to a hospital have no effect on the quality of care the patient receives,” Watt wrote for his court.

Center for Reproductive Rights CEO Nancy Northup called the ruling “a victory for Oklahoma women and another rebuke to politicians pushing underhanded laws.”

“Whether in Oklahoma, Texas or elsewhere, allowing politicians to trample women’s rights by shutting down clinics is not only wrong, it’s dangerous,” she said.

Watt and his court also found that SB 1848 violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s ban on laws containing more than one subject, with 12 “separate and unrelated subsections.”

“Sections in SB 1848 are so unrelated and misleading that a legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice,” Watt said.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.

The ruling came on the same day another effort to reduce abortions was approved, as the Oklahoma Board of Health adopted the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act.”

It will require restrooms in hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs with information urging pregnant women to seek services from agencies “willing and able” to help a woman carry her child to term.

As the Legislature did not approve any money for this new requirement, businesses and other organizations will have to pay an estimated $2.3 million to put up the signs, according to The Associated Press.

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