New Lawsuit Seeks to Block Restrictions on Non-Surgical Abortion in Oklahoma

Legal challenge filed less than a year after state courts permanently struck down similar measure as unconstitutional

(PRESS RELEASE) Women’s health care providers filed a new lawsuit in state court today challenging Oklahoma’s unconstitutional restrictions on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy—restrictions that would force physicians to treat women seeking medication abortion according to a decade-old method that is less safe, less effective, and more expensive than the evidence-based methods most doctors currently use.  The Center for Reproductive Rights represents the providers in today’s suit.

House Bill 2684—which was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin in April and is scheduled to take effect  November 1—would deny women current evidence-based protocols for medication abortion that leading medical groups have found “make medical abortion safer, faster, and less expensive, and that result in fewer complications” as compared to the protocol mandated under the law. In addition, the bill bans all medication abortions after 49 days of pregnancy, forcing women to undergo a surgical procedure when they otherwise would have the option of a safe abortion using medications alone.

Today’s lawsuit comes less than a year after the courts overturned Oklahoma’s last attempt to ban medication abortion in the state. In that case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that preventing doctors from using evidence-based medicine “is so completely at odds with the standard that governs the practice of medicine that it can serve no purpose other than to prevent women from obtaining abortions and to punish and discriminate against those who do.”

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

“Oklahoma politicians are back at it again, playing doctor, intruding upon women’s private decisions, and pretending their actions are good for women’s health even though medical experts and associations nationwide make clear that they are absolutely not.

“Women’s health will never be advanced by laws aimed at foreclosing safe and legal options for those who have made the decision to end a pregnancy, no matter what false pretenses lawmakers use to dress them up.

“The true intent and effect of this law is to deny women an important option for ending a pregnancy safely and legally in the earliest stages. That is plainly unconstitutional, and we are confident that the court, as it has so many times before, will stop it from ever going into effect.”

Autumn Katz and Zoe Levine of the Center for Reproductive Rights, 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 Nova Health Systems d/b/a Reproductive Services—a non-profit reproductive health care facility in Tulsa—and the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice—a non-profit membership organization dedicated to ensuring the availability of the full range of reproductive health care services to women throughout the state.

This is the third time in the past four years Oklahoma politicians have passed legislation restricting women’s access to medication abortion in the state, including a measure that would have effectively banned the method in 2011.  The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge in October 2011 against that provision and the US Supreme Court eventually refused to hear the case, allowing the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision permanently blocking the law from taking effect to stand.

Women in the United States have been safely and legally using medication abortion for over a decade, with one in four women who make the decision to end a pregnancy in the first nine weeks choosing this method.  Major medical groups oppose laws like Oklahoma’s which severely restrict access to medication abortion.  Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG) have submitted amicus briefs opposing similar restrictions in Arizona and Texas.  These types of restrictions ignore years of doctor’s practical experience and scientific advancement, forcing providers to prescribe the medication with an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol.

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.