Oklahoma Supreme Court Blocks State Law Aimed at Criminalizing Women’s Health Care Providers

Measure allowing warrantless searches of abortion providers and felony charges for administrative errors temporarily blocked while litigation continues

(PRESS RELEASE) The Oklahoma Supreme Court today blocked an omnibus measure that would have targeted women’s health care providers with onerous criminal penalties simply because they provide abortion services.

SB 642—which was scheduled to go into effect on November 1—contains four provisions, including one which permits unannounced, warrantless searches of abortion providers.  The measure also includes language that could be interpreted to bring felony charges for any violation of the more than 140 statutes targeted at physicians and medical facilities providing abortion.  If enforced in this arbitrary manner, S.B. 642 could subject clinic staff to prosecution for posting a required sign in a font style different from that dictated by statute, or for filing a required form a few days late. 

Today’s ruling guarantees the law will remain blocked pending the re-filing of the challenge in state district court and ensures the measure will remain blocked until that litigation is concluded. 

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

“Today marks another victory against these cynical and politically motivated attacks on women’s health and basic rights.

“Oklahoma women already face significant obstacles when seeking safe and legal abortion, the last thing they need is another measure criminalizing their doctors and pushing essential health care further out of reach.

“We will continue to stand with Oklahoma women and their trusted health care providers to fight back against these cruel and unconstitutional attacks.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care in Oklahoma eight times in five years, including a measure which forces women to delay constitutionally protected health care by at least 72 hours and a ban on the most common method of second trimester abortion.  A state court judge blocked the ban earlier this month, but allowed the waiting period to take effect. 

The Center is also challenging the state’s Texas-style clinic shutdown law and the state’s 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 in August 2014. 

From clinic shutdown laws—which have closed clinics in Texas and threaten to shutter abortion providers in LouisianaMississippiTennessee, 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.

This challenge was filed by Ilene Jaroslaw, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and Blake Patton of Walding & Patton on behalf of Larry A. Burns, D.O, a physician with over 42 years of experience providing safe abortion care in Oklahoma.  Dr. Burns is one of only two abortion providers in the state.

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