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Oklahoma high court nullifies medical abortion restrictions

April 30, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a state law restricting access to drug-induced abortions is unconstitutional, the latest decision by the state’s highest court striking down restrictions on abortions adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The court overturned a 2014 state law that banned “off-label” use of mifepristone, a medication used for abortions, sometimes called RU-486. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the law on behalf of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, complained that it would force physicians to treat women seeking medication abortion with an obsolete regimen that had been rejected by medical experts and the Food and Drug Administration.

The statute required physicians to comply with the FDA’s 2000 label protocol for medically terminated pregnancies rather than an updated protocol introduced in 2016. The abortion-rights group maintained that the law made Oklahoma the only state in the nation to enforce the older protocol.

Under the new FDA label, a smaller dose of mifepristone can be used up to 70 days after the beginning of the last menstrual period instead of the 49-day limit in effect under the old label rule. The abortion-rights group said the law effectively banned all medication abortions after 49 days of pregnancy, forcing women to undergo a surgical procedure when they could have had the option of using medications alone.

In striking down the law, the Supreme Court in a 7-1 decision ruled that the requirement “places a substantial obstacle in the path of women’s choice and places an undue burden on the woman’s rights.”

The ruling upholds an Oklahoma County judge’s 2017 ruling that overturned and permanently blocked the law that was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Republican former Gov. Mary Fallin.

Autumn Katz, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, hailed the decision as “a critical victory for Oklahoma women and their doctors” and said the ruling “elevates science over politics and ensures that Oklahomans who decide to end a pregnancy can continue to get the care they need.”

Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office, which defended the statute, declined comment on the decision.

The abortion rights group said Oklahoma has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation and that lawmakers have passed more than 20 bills restricting access to abortion and other reproductive health care since 2011.

They include a measure signed into law by GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt last week that requires medical providers to tell women who want drug-induced abortions that the process can be reversed after they take the first of two pills. Democrats argued that medical groups across the U.S. have said the requirement would force doctors to provide patients with scientifically dubious information. Similar laws have been approved in Idaho and other states.

In 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned state laws that placed restrictions on abortions, including parental consent for minors and the inspection of abortion clinics, and required doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges.

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