State Court Permanently Blocks Oklahoma’s Unconstitutional Restrictions on Medication Abortion

For Immediate Release

State Court Permanently Blocks Oklahoma’s Unconstitutional Restrictions on Medication Abortion

NEW YORK - An Oklahoma state judge permanently blocked a state law restricting medication abortion today, ensuring women in the state will continue to have access to a method of ending a pregnancy in its earliest stages using medication that has been proven safe by more than a decade of scientific evidence and medical practice.

State district court judge Patricia G. Parrish ruled from the bench during a summary judgment hearing this morning, finding the restrictions clearly violate the state constitution's prohibition against special laws--which forbids the legislature from enacting a special law where a general law could be enacted.  A written order is currently being drafted based on today’s ruling.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today’s ruling affirms that Oklahoma politicians cannot single out women for discrimination simply because they don’t agree with their health care decisions.

“For years, Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission to stand between women and safe, legal abortion care, and the courts have stepped in time and time again to stop them.  It’s time for Oklahoma politicians to take the hint and give up their relentless crusade against women and their doctors. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged Oklahoma’s restrictions on non-surgical abortion in September 2014 —restrictions that would force physicians to treat women seeking medication abortion according to a decade-old method that is less safe, less effective, and more expensive than the evidence-based methods most doctors currently use.  The measure—which was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin in April—also bans all medication abortions after 49 days of pregnancy, forcing women to undergo a surgical procedure when they otherwise would have the option of a safe abortion using medications alone. 

A state court judge failed to block the measure in late October 2014, but the state Supreme Court stepped in shortly thereafter and blocked the measure from taking effect while the legal challenge continued.

This is the third time in the past four years Oklahoma politicians have passed legislation restricting women’s access to medication abortion in the state, including a measure that would have effectively banned the method in 2011.  The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge in October 2011 against that provision and the US Supreme Court eventually refused to hear the case, allowing the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision permanently blocking the law from taking effect to stand. 

Autumn Katz and Zoe Levine of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Blake Patton of Walding & Patton, and Martha Hardwick of Hardwick Law Office represent Nova Health Systems d/b/a Reproductive Services—a non-profit reproductive health care facility in Tulsa—and the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice—a non-profit membership organization dedicated to ensuring the availability of the full range of reproductive health care services to women throughout the state in this challenge.  The Center is also currently challenging a Texas-style clinic shutdown law in Oklahoma, which also remains blocked while the legal challenge continues.

Women in the United States have been safely and legally using medication abortion for over a decade, with one in four women who make the decision to end a pregnancy in the first nine weeks choosing this method.  Major medical groups oppose laws like Oklahoma’s which severely restrict access to medication abortion.  Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG) have submitted amicus briefs opposing similar restrictions in Arizona and Texas.  These types of restrictions ignore years of doctor’s practical experience and scientific advancement, forcing providers to prescribe the medication with an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like Wisconsin from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

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