Abortion restrictions struck down by Oklahoma Supreme Court

© Kevin Lamarque
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has struck down a law that set new criminal charges for providers who violated any of the state’s many abortion regulations. The law also required that fetal tissue be collected and preserved from patients younger than 14.

Oklahoma has some of the toughest restrictions on women’s reproductive rights in the US. But Tuesday’s state Supreme Court decision prevented laws from going into effect that required the collection of fetal tissue from patients younger than 14, criminal penalties for providers that violate any of the state’s numerous abortion statutes, stricter requirements for abortion clinics and criminal charges for any individual that helps a minor obtain an abortion without their parent’s consent.

The justices unanimously nixed the laws for two reasons. First, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that rolling all of these different aspects into one bill violated the state constitution’s requirement that each legislative bill refer to one subject. The bill, SB 642, was found to lack a cohesive subject.

"We reject defendants' arguments and find this legislation violates the single subject rule as each of these sections is so unrelated and misleading that a legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice," Justice Joseph Watt wrote in the court’s opinion.

In addition, the legislation was also found to violate the constitutional right to an abortion by placing burdens on providers that are rarely seen by medical providers of other serves.

The Supreme Court’s ruling noted that the first section of the bill contained new provisions for abortion providers along with penalties for violating them. But that first section alone also expanded powers for the attorney general, “a district attorney, or any person adversely affected” by violating the rules.

The inclusion of such all-inclusive power to enforce to any person adversely affected greatly expands the threat of litigation to a limited very specific profession in a method not heretofore seen,” Watt wrote.
The section related to collecting fetal samples from minor patients made a failure to do so both a felony and unprofessional conduct.

This provision forces a limited section of health care providers to become agents of law enforcement,” Watts wrote. “What other areas of the medical profession have such far reaching requirements?"

Lincoln Ferguson, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, said: "This law would have given law enforcement the ability to more easily prosecute sexual assaults of children that are discovered when a child under 14 has an abortion," Reuters reported.

Oklahoma has the 12th highest rate of rape reports with 1,849 reported in 2015 according to the FBI. However, the state also has 3,783 untested rape kits in its backlogs.

The bill was authored by four Republicans including Representative Mike Ritze and Senators Dan Newberry, Ralph Shortey and Ron Sharp. Ritze bemoaned the Supreme Court’s decision, according to KOTV.

All four authors voted in favor of SB 1552, a radical abortion bill that would have revoked the medical licenses from doctors who performed abortions and imposed prison sentences on healthcare professionals who continued to perform abortions.On top of that, Shortey authored SB 1418, a bill that banned fetuses in food.

"I don't know if it is happening in Oklahoma, it may be, it may not be. What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here," he told KRMG.

Reproductive rights advocates are praising the decision. The Center for Reproductive Rights said the law was "nothing but a cynical attack on women's health and rights by unjustly targeting their trusted health care providers.

The pro-choice movement gained some ground in Oklahoma after Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, vetoed SB 1418. Last month, the first new abortion clinic in 40 years opened its doors in Oklahoma City.