Nova Health Systems v. Henry


Primary Content

The Center is challenging an Oklahoma law that imposes numerous restrictions on the performance of abortion, including a requirement that, before a woman may obtain an abortion, she must listen to her doctor describe an ultrasound image of her pregnancy.

Filing Date: 10/9/2008

State: Oklahoma

Plaintiff(s): Nova Health Systems d/b/a Reproductive Services

Center Attorney(s): Stephanie Toti

Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Anne Zachritz, Martha Hardwick

Summary: ,This case, filed by the Center in October, 2008, challenges a new Oklahoma law that assaults women's health and dignity in a variety of ways.

First, the law directly undercuts pregnant women's decision-making autonomy by forcing their abortion providers to give them information they may not want or need, while at the same time authorizing the women's physicians to withhold information that may be critically important to the women understanding, and making decisions about, their pregnancies.

Specifically, the law requires a woman who seeks an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and have the ultrasound image placed within her view and described to her in detail by her physician. The woman must meet these requirements even if she does not wish to see the ultrasound image or hear a description of it, and even if her physician believes that provision of that information is inappropriate.
At the same time, the law prohibits a woman from suing her physician for intentionally withholding information about her pregnancy that might cause her to consider having an abortion. Thus, a pregnant woman would have no legal recourse if a physician intentionally did not tell her that her fetus suffered from a severe developmental anomaly.

In addition, the law also imposes restrictions on "medical abortion," -- abortion procedures early in pregnancy that are induced by medication rather than surgery. The law requires physicians who perform medical abortions to use a very specific medication regime, thus preventing them from using other regimes that are commonly practiced by physicians and that have been proven safer and more effective. This requirement unnecessarily ties the hands of physicians attempting to provide their patients with the safest abortion care available.

The Center filed its challenge to the Oklahoma law on October 9, 2008 in the Oklahoma state court. The lawsuit alleges that the law violates numerous provisions of Oklahoma's State constitution. On October 29, 2008, the court entered a temporary restraining order to prevent the law from taking effect until the court has an opportunity to rule on the Plaintiff's motion for a temporary injunction.

On August 21, 2009, District of Oklahoma County Judge Vicki Robertson issued a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law. Judge Robertson ruled that the bill passed by the legislature addressed too many disparate topics and therefore violated the Oklahoma Constitution's "single-subject" requirement. The defendants have filed an appeal.