Oklahoma Judge Greenlights Unconstitutional Clinic Shutdown Law

State court fails to block unconstitutional restrictions targeting abortion providers, Center for Reproductive Rights plans immediate appeal to state Supreme Court

(PRESS RELEASE) A state district court judge failed today to block an unconstitutional Oklahoma abortion clinic shutdown law similar to others that have devastated access to safe, legal abortion services across the region. The Center for Reproductive Rights—who filed a legal challenge against the measure earlier this month—is planning an emergency appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to ensure that the physician providing nearly half of the abortion services in the state can continue providing safe and legal care.

Senate Bill 1848—which is scheduled to take effect on November 1— was signed by Governor Mary Fallin in May and forces reproductive health care clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital on-site when 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, Louisiana, 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 some hospitals 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:

“Today’s ruling rubberstamps the false pretenses of Oklahoma politicians attempting to insert themselves into women’s personal, private decisions in which they have no business.

 “If allowed to take effect, access to safe legal abortion in Oklahoma will be drastically reduced on November 1.

“This copycat clinic shutdown law would put Oklahoma among the ranks of several states in the region that have endangered women’s health and safety by eliminating critical services for those who have made the decision to end a pregnancy.

 “We will take every legal step necessary to ensure this law never takes effect, and now look to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to step in and immediately protect women’s rights and access to safe, legal abortion.”

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, represent Larry A. Burns, D.O. in this challenge—a physician with over 41 years of experience providing safe abortion care in Norman, Oklahoma.  To date, Dr. Burns has been unable to obtain privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of his office, with many hospitals even refusing to process his application.  Dr. Burns provides abortions at one of only three clinics 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.  Louisiana clinics are also challenging a similar law which could shutter the majority of their clinics.  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 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.