Oklahoma Supreme Court Saves Abortion Clinics After Blocking Two Extreme Laws

The midterm elections took most of our attention this week, but for abortion rights activists in Oklahoma, their battleground was the courtroom. On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked two anti-abortion laws in Oklahoma that threatened to close two of the state's three clinics, leaving women with further miles to travel and less options for termination procedures. The laws, which were enacted Nov. 1, are currently being challenged in the Oklahoma County District Court.

The measures placing Oklahoma's three abortion providers in jeopardy are similar to the back-door abortion bans responsible for shuttering clinics throughout the South and Midwest. One law passed by the state legislature requires physicians providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius of the clinic — just like the provision in nearby Texas and Kansas. The other requirement limits the use of medical abortions — or pill-induced abortions — by banning "off-label" use of mifepristone and non-FDA practices, which essentially outlaws telemedicine abortion.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court handed out two separate rulings on Tuesday, both of which enjoined the laws, allowing all three Oklahoma clinics to remain open for the time being. According to Oklahoma's highest court, the two anti-abortion laws can't take effect until their constitutionality is decided in the lower courts.

Attorneys with the Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit challenging the admitting privileges law on behalf of Dr. Larry A. Burns, who runs Abortion Surgery Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Burns failed to receive admitting privileges at a local hospital, and would have been forced to stop providing abortions this week. According to The New York Times, Burns' clinic does about 40 percent of abortions in Oklahoma.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights is also challenging the restrictions on medical abortions in a separate case. The reproductive rights group represents Nova Health Systems, a Tulsa-based abortion clinic.

Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northrup said on Tuesday:

Today the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed the women of Oklahoma a crucial victory by protecting their constitutional rights and restoring critical options for those seeking safe and legal abortion services. Time and time again, courts are seeing that the true motive behind these underhanded and baseless restrictions is to push essential reproductive health care services out of reach for as many women as possible.

According to the reproductive rights groups, this is the third time in four years that Oklahoma lawmakers passed legislation severely impact a woman's right to a medical abortion. In 2013, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on Oklahoma's then-law banning all drug-induced abortions, enabling the Oklahoma Supreme Court's ruling, which struck down the law, to stand.

Republican legislators in Oklahoma returned in 2014 with this new and improved law, which doesn't ban medical abortions outright but places restrictions on the most common practices of the abortion pill, while also outlawing the use of the most common abortion drug, mifepristone. Reproductive rights activists say the law could possibly end medical abortions in the state, because of its outdated and impractical guidelines.

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