Reproductive Rights

Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling

An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. The court’s decision denied their request to temporarily block the legislation pending a final ruling on its constitutionality, rubber stamping the efforts of Oklahoma politicians to force doctors to use an outdated protocol for administering a medication abortion using the drug mifepristone – one that the medical community and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have rejected  in favor of a new standard of care that calls for a significantly lower dosage. The law bans medication abortion after seven weeks, even though the new standard can be administered safely beyond that time.

In short, the Oklahoma law forces some women seeking to exercise their constitutional rights to undergo a medically unnecessary surgical procedure.

Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the organizations representing the plaintiffs in the case, said that the state court’s ruling “endorses sham restrictions passed under false pretenses to deny doctors the ability to prescribe certain kinds of care and women a safe option when they have decided to end a pregnancy.” The Center has already announced its intention to immediately appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

“Politicians have no more business playing doctor than they do intruding on our personal, private medical decisions,” said Northup. “We now look to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to maintain women’s ability to get high-quality, compassionate care based on the expertise of the reproductive health care providers they trust, not the agendas of politicians who presume to know better.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights is also fighting an Oklahoma TRAP law (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers)set to take effect Saturday that would require abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges or face shutdown. Dr. Larry Burns, who performs 44 percent of all abortions in Oklahoma, filed an emergency motion Monday in the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block the law. Burns attempted to obtain admitting privileges with at least 12 area hospitals, but was denied by each one. If the law is permitted to take effect on November 1, Burns will be forced to shut his practice down, leaving hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma women at risk.

Politicians claim that TRAP laws like Oklahoma’s increase patient safety, but that is deceptive. Complications from legal abortion are rare, and both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and American Medical Association (AMA) have repeatedly stated that these measures are medically unnecessary. Because admitting privileges can also be extremely difficult to obtain, these laws result in closing women’s reproductive health clinics – thus further jeopardizing the health of women seeking access to safe and legal abortion care.

HB 2684 was passed after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down previous medication abortion restrictions the state had passed in 2011. Oklahoma had attempted to appeal that ruling to the US Supreme Court, but the Court dismissed the case from its docket after receiving clarification on the law from the state supreme court. Earlier this week, the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld similar restrictions on medication abortion. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, however, ruled earlier this year that medication abortion restrictions in Arizona were unconstitutional.

Media Resources: Center for Reproductive Rights 10/29/14, 10/24/14; Feminist Newswire 10/29/14, 10/15/14; 11/4/13; Guttmacher Institute 7/14; American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists 12/20/13

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