In Key Victory, Oklahoma State Judge Finds Arbitrary Restrictions on Medication Abortion Unconstitutional

In what the Center for Reproductive Rights calls an “unprecedented ruling recognizing bodily integrity and reproductive choice as fundamental rights under the Oklahoma state constitution,” an Oklahoma state judge has found that a law restricting medical care for women seeking an abortion is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

The ruling, issued Friday by Oklahoma County District Judge Donald Worthington, pertains to access to medication abortion, a method of early abortion that has been proven safe and effective in both clinical trials and through widespread experience in Europe and the United States. More than 1.4 million women in the U.S. have undergone early termination of pregnancy using medication abortion since mifepristone was approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration in 2000

Despite safety data, a law passed by the overwhelmingly anti-choice Oklahoma legislature in early 2011 arbitrarily restricted access to medication abortion. 

Judge Worthington ruled that the bill’s restrictions on medication abortion are unconstitutional because they are “so completely at odds with the standard that governs the practice of medicine that [the bill] can serve no purpose other than to prevent women from obtaining abortions and to punish and discriminate against those women who do.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the original legal challenge [Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice et al., v. Terry Cline, et al.] in October 2011 on behalf of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the availability of the full range of reproductive health-care services to women throughout the state, and Nova Health Systems, a non-profit reproductive health-care facility located in Tulsa.

The law — which had been temporarily blocked since October — would have banned any off-label use of medications for abortion or treatment of ectopic pregnancy, while explicitly allowing off-label use of the same medication for other purposes. According to the lawsuit, the law not only jeopardizes women’s health by preventing doctors from using safe and effective methods available, but also undermines women’s ability to exercise the full range of their fundamental constitutionally protected reproductive rights.

“This decision adds to a growing list of state and federal courts that have reaffirmed in no uncertain terms that reproductive rights are fundamental constitutional rights that must be afforded the strongest possible legal protection,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the legal challenge last year.

It sends a strong message to anti-choice legislators in Oklahoma and beyond that their disingenuous tactics for restricting access to abortion and their hostility toward women’s fundamental rights will not stand. The court has made it clear this law was never about protecting women. It was about banning safe and effective methods of terminating a pregnancy, and making it impossible for women to exercise the full range of their constitutionally protected rights.

Availability of medication abortion is critical to ensuring all women have access to safe, early terminationof pregnancy and is particularly important to those living in rural or semi-rural areas with no abortion provider.

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