Reproductive Rights Group Sues State to Expand Access to Medication Abortion

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – An abortion-rights group sued Friday to expand access to medication abortions in Oklahoma, seeking to block a law requiring a doctor be physically present to give abortion pills and a separate law banning advanced practice registered nurses from performing the procedure.

The nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state in Oklahoma County District Court on behalf of South Wind Women’s Center in Oklahoma City, one of the clinic’s doctors and one of its nurse practitioners. The lawsuit is the sixth time in the past five years the group has sued to stop the Republican-led state’s abortion restrictions.

The lawsuit opposes the state’s “physician in-person” law, which bans doctors from using telemedicine technology to remotely prescribe abortion pills to patients during the first trimester. The law requires the doctor be in the same room as the patient. The lawsuit also opposes the state’s “physician-only” law, arguing advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs, have an “established track record of providing safe abortion care” in other states.

“Sixteen states already authorize APRNs to perform medication abortions, and ten states authorize APRNs to perform aspiration procedures,” the 35-page complaint states. 

The plaintiffs argue the laws violate the Oklahoma Constitution because they are “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 states. “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.” 

The plaintiffs say 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.”

The clinic’s founder and chief executive officer, Julie Burkhart, said telemedicine “is a critical component of health care delivery” in the state.

“Telemedicine would increase the available days that qualified practitioners are able to provide abortion care,” she said. “It will certainly decrease the wait time for our patients. Reproductive access in Oklahoma is scarce; therefore, striking the physician-only law and the telemedicine ban will bring equality to more people in Oklahoma.”

Eighteen states currently have laws banning the use of telemedicine for prescribing abortion pills. Thirty-four states currently have “physician-only” laws.

A spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday afternoon, stating the state has yet to be served.

The Center for Reproductive Rights currently has two other lawsuits targeting abortion laws pending in the Oklahoma courts. 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday temporarily blocked a law banning a common second-trimester abortion procedure that critics claim cruelly dismembers a fetus. In a 6-2 decision, the high court agreed to issue an injunction against House Bill 1721, known as the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act of 2015, while the court considers the appeal. 

Oklahoma County District Judge Cindy Truong upheld the law four months ago, spurring an appeal filed by the Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic. 

Two weeks ago, Oklahoma County District Judge Don Andrews issued a temporary injunction against Senate Bill 614 that requires doctors to tell patients that the abortion can be reversed after they ingest mifepristone, the first of two abortion drugs. 

SB 614 requires doctors to say mifepristone alone “is not always effective in ending pregnancy” and “it may be possible to reverse its intended effect if the second pill or tablet has not been taken or administered.” It also requires doctors to provide the telephone number for an “abortion pill reversal 24-hour hotline” and website.

Physicians who violate SB 614 could face felony charges, with the patient facing no penalties.

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