New Lawsuit Challenges Unconstitutional Oklahoma Abortion Restrictions

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Law Threatens to Reduce Access to Safe, Legal Abortion in Region Already Devastated by Similar Restrictions
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(PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a new lawsuit in state court today challenging an Oklahoma law signed by Governor Mary Fallin in May which mimics other laws passed in the region specifically designed to shutter reproductive health clinics.

Filed just two days after another lawsuit challenging the state’s unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion, today’s suit—filed on behalf of a physician who provides nearly half of the abortion services in the state— seeks to block Senate Bill 1848, a measure that would force reproductive health care clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital on-site during days abortion procedures are performed. 

Admitting privileges requirements like Oklahoma’s are opposed by national and state medical groups and have devastated access to abortion services throughout the South.  Scores of clinics have been forced to close in Texas, with clinics in Mississippi and Alabama hanging on by a court order.  Admitting privileges are not necessary for the treatment of the fewer than 1 percent of abortion patients who experience complications requiring hospital treatment and they can also be impossible to satisfy because of hospitals’ inclination to deny admitting privileges to abortion providers for reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.

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

“The relentless attacks by Oklahoma politicians on women’s health care and rights under the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions must be stopped.

“This latest restriction on abortion, like all the others that have been passed by this legislature and subsequently blocked by the courts, reflects nothing more than a single-minded obsession with shutting down the clinics that offer safe, legal care to women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy.

“Oklahoma women now face ever-shrinking access to essential health care in a region already devastated by similar restrictions.  With their options rapidly disappearing, women will soon have few places left to turn when they need to end a pregnancy safely and legally. 

“Legal challenges to laws like this have exposed the disingenuousness of the politicians who claim they are about protecting women’s health and safety. We are confident this court will see through the pretense and block this law before it damages the health and rights of Oklahoma women.”

Ilene Jaroslaw, Janet Crepps, and Genevieve Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Blake Patton of Walding &, Patton and Martha Hardwick of Hardwick Law Office, filed today’s suit in the District Court of Oklahoma County on behalf of Larry A. Burns, D.O.—a physician with over 41 years of experience providing safe abortion care in Norman, Oklahoma.  Dr. Burns has been unable to obtain privileges at any of the 16 qualifying hospitals within 30 miles of his office, with many hospitals even refusing to process his application.  Dr. Burns is one of only three abortion providers in the state and provides nearly half of abortion services for Oklahoma women.

With this law, Oklahoma joined the ranks of other states that have attempted to use admitting privileges requirements as an underhanded way to shutter high-quality clinics and severely limit women’s access to abortion services.  Women’s health care providers and advocates are currently involved in two challenges to Texas’ unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement which has already closed health centers across the state while the last clinic in Mississippi is fighting to keep its doors open.  A similar law in Alabama was recently found unconstitutional and Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement has been preliminarily blocked.

Major medical groups oppose laws like Oklahoma’s that require hospital admitting privileges for physicians providing abortion services.  In an amicus brief filed in the challenge to Texas’ admitting privileges requirement, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) write that the law “jeopardizes women’s health,” and does “nothing to protect the health of women.”  Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, with fewer than 1% of patients requiring treatment at a hospital.  The Oklahoma State Medical Association opposed Senate Bill 1848 because it “would result in the Legislature and unelected bureaucrats at the Department of Health interfering in the physician/patient relationship and crafting more burdensome regulations that . . . may not reflect medical science or the best interest of the patient.”

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Oklahoma 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.