State Court Blocks Oklahoma Measure Criminalizing Doctors for Providing Safe, Common Abortion Method, But Fails to Block 72-Hour Waiting Period

(PRESS RELEASE) Earlier today, a state court judge blocked an Oklahoma measure banning the most commonly used method of ending a pregnancy in the second trimester—a law that could force some women to either undergo additional, invasive, and medically unnecessary procedures, or to lose access to abortion services entirely. 

Judge Patricia Parrish ruled from the bench during a temporary injunction hearing today, deciding to block the measure while the case proceeds.  However, Judge Parrish failed to block a measure which will triple the state’s mandatory waiting period from 24 to 72 hours for all women seeking abortion services as of November 1--making Oklahoma the fifth U.S. state to force women to delay constitutionally protected health care for at least three days. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights is currently exploring all legal options to ensure Oklahoma women continue to have access to safe and legal abortion without being forced to delay care.

“Today’s ruling rightly ensures Oklahoma physicians won’t be thrown behind bars for providing safe, legal, and individualized health care to their patients,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Political meddling should never trump the expertise and experience of physicians when it comes to medicine.

“Today’s ruling falls short of recognizing women as capable decision-makers who do not need to be told to go home and wait at least three days before they can get the care they need. Oklahoma women already face incredible obstacles when they need to legally and safely end a pregnancy and this law only makes matters worse. We will continue to stand with Oklahoma women in beating back these relentless attacks on their basic constitutional rights.”

Both measures were signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin this past spring and slated to take effect on November 1, 2015.

Oklahoma’s ban (HB 1721) mirrors a Kansas measure which was signed by Governor Sam Brownback in April 2015 over the objections of local and national medical experts, including over 20 area physicians.  In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes measures like those found in Kansas and Oklahoma, noting “these restrictions represent legislative interference at its worst: doctors will be forced, by ill-advised, unscientifically motivated policy, to provide lesser care to patients. This is unacceptable.”  The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the Kansas measure in June and a state court judge blocked it from taking effect a few weeks later.

This lawsuit is the eighth time in five years that the Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care in Oklahoma, including a lawsuit filed in September 2015 challenging an omnibus measure that blatantly violates the Oklahoma Constitution.  The Center is also challenging the state’s Texas-style clinic shutdown law and most recently passed restrictions on medication abortion.  The state Supreme Court temporarily blocked the clinic shutdown law from taking effect in November 2014 and a state court permanently blocked the restrictions on medication abortion last month.

From clinic shutdown laws—which have closed clinics in Texas and threaten to shutter abortion providers in LouisianaMississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama—to outright bans on abortion and mandatory delays, women in the South face innumerable hurdles when trying to access their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion services.  Oklahoma women face many of these challenges, with only two clinics providing safe and legal abortion services in the entire state. Rather than focusing on increasing the number of policies that are known to support women and children, politicians in Oklahoma have spent their time enacting abortion restrictions that do nothing to improve women’s health and safety.

Autumn Katz and Tiseme Zegeye of the Center for Reproductive Rights and Blake Patton of Walding & Patton filed the most recent lawsuit earlier this month on behalf of Reproductive Services, a Tulsa reproductive health provider with over 41 years of experience providing safe and legal abortion to Oklahoma women.

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