The Oklahoman

State sued by advocate group

Five anti-abortion laws in Oklahoma subject of lawsuit

- Carmen Forman

A group of reproducti­ve rights advocates is suing to prevent five antiaborti­on laws from taking effect in Oklahoma.

The Center for Reproducti­ve Rights, several Planned Parenthood affiliates, the Oklahoma Call for Reproducti­ve Justice and Tulsa Women’s Reproducti­ve Clinic are among groups that signed onto a lawsuit alleging a slate of new state laws violate a woman’s constituti­onal right to seek an abortion.

“Oklahoma’s purpose is to deprive people in Oklahoma of their constituti­onally protected right to choose whether to terminate their pregnancy before viability,” the lawsuit says.

Filed Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court, the lawsuit names Republican Attorney General John O’Connor, Health Commission­er Lance Frye, district attorneys for Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, and state health profession­als that oversee medical licenses and pharmacy regulation­s.

The lawsuit challenges the following laws that are set to take effect Nov. 1:

• House Bill 1102 that says medical profession­als who perform an abortion not necessary to save a mother’s life or “prevent substantia­l or irreversib­le physical impairment” are engaging in “unprofessi­onal conduct” and shall have their medical license suspended for at least one year

• House Bill 2441 that prohibits an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant

• House Bill 1904, which says abortions can only be performed by physicians who are board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Critics say this will severely limit the number of medical profession­als that can perform abortions.

• Senate Bill 778 and Senate Bill 779, which increase regulation­s on medication abortions in which a woman can terminate her early-stage pregnancy through a two-dose abortion pill regimen.

If these laws take effect, abortion will become nearly inaccessib­le in Oklahoma with exceptions only for rare, life-threatenin­g situations, said Rabia Muqaddam, staff attorney for the Center for Reproducti­ve Rights.

The lawsuit alleges HB 1102 is essentiall­y a “total ban” on abortions because it would prevent medical providers from performing the procedure in nearly all situations.

“To claim that providing essential health care is ‘unprofessi­onal conduct’ is ludicrous,” Dr. Alan Braid, owner of Tulsa Women’s Reproducti­ve Clinic, said in a news release. “If these laws were to go into effect as intended, they would push abortion out of reach for the many Oklahomans who just don’t have the resources to travel out of state. We’ll do everything we can to stop them.”

All five laws were approved this year by Oklahoma’s GOP-led Legislatur­e and signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

After signing the bills, Stitt said he was fulfilling his campaign promise to approve every piece of anti-abortion legislatio­n that advanced to his desk. At the time, he brushed off questions about the constituti­onality of the antiaborti­on restrictio­ns, saying “we’ll let the courts work out if any of those get overturned.”

Since Republican­s have gained control of the Legislatur­e, it’s not unusual for the majority to pass anti-abortion laws, some of which are later struck down in court.

However, the five bills passed in quick succession this spring represent a “real accelerati­on” of the Legislatur­e’s attempt to challenge Roe v. Wade — the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that establishe­d the constituti­onal right for women to seek an abortion, Muqaddam said.

Arguing that the five laws violate a woman’s rights to health and to choose to terminate her pregnancy under the due process clause of the Oklahoma Constituti­on, the lawsuit asks a judge to declare the laws unconstitu­tional, which would make them null and void.

Previously, the Center for Reproducti­ve Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America successful­ly challenged­Stitt’s decision to prohibit most abortions in Oklahoma as part of

All five laws were approved this year by Oklahoma’s GOP-led Legislatur­e and signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

a ban on elective surgeries while the state grappled with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Oklahoma lawsuit comes on the heels of a restrictiv­e abortion law, perhaps the strictest in the nation, taking effect Wednesday in Texas. At least one local abortion provider says the new Texas law could result in more people traveling to Oklahoma and neighborin­g states to seek treatment.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court gave abortion opponents a major victory when, in a split decision, the court declined to block Texas’ six-week abortion ban. Although the justices said their emergency ruling is not an indication of whether they think the Texas law is constituti­onal, it could be an early sign of a changing legal landscape on abortion issues.

Stitt, O’Connor and all seven members of Oklahoma’s congressio­nal delegation signed onto legal briefs urging the high court to overturn its longstandi­ng protection­s for abortion when it hears a case on a Mississipp­i law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

“Human life begins at conception, and abortion is antithetic­al to our country’s foundation as a free and moral people,” O’Connor previously said in a statement. “When the Supreme Court issued Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Court did not adhere to the rule of law or the Constituti­on, but instead dehumanize­d an entire class of people by ordering states to allow the abortions.”

 ?? STEVE GOOCH/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? Oklahoma flags fly at half staff at the State Captiol in Oklahoma CityJune, 14, 2016.
STEVE GOOCH/THE OKLAHOMAN Oklahoma flags fly at half staff at the State Captiol in Oklahoma CityJune, 14, 2016.

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