Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules Medication Abortion Ban Unconstitutional, Sends Case Back to SCOTUS


On Tuesday, after answering certified questions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court definitively ruled that the state’s restrictions on medication abortion are unconstitutional.

The ruling came in the case of Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a case the Roberts Court has indicated it is interested in taking up. The case challenges a 2011 Oklahoma law that bans the off-label use of the abortion pill RU-486 or any “abortion-inducing drug.” The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge to the law in October 2011, which was permanently struck down later by a district court judge. In December 2012, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling. Attorneys for the State of Oklahoma then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a review of that ruling.

The Roberts Court agreed to review the case but asked first that the Oklahoma Supreme Court give a definitive ruling about the scope of the law. Specifically, the Supreme Court wanted an answer as to whether the Oklahoma law banned, rather than severely regulated, medication abortion, and whether the law prohibited the use of certain abortion-inducing drugs to treat ectopic pregnancies.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday the law does both because it “restricts the long-respected medical discretion of physicians” and therefore effectively bans medication abortions and the non-surgical treatment of women with ectopic pregnancies. To come to this conclusion the Oklahoma Supreme Court looked no further than the language of the statute, holding that a plain reading of the statutory language supports no other conclusion. “The use of misoprostol in the protocol described in the mifepristone FDA-approved label is an off-label use prohibited by the terms of HB 1970, and the use of methotrexate in treating ectopic pregnancies is an off-label use also prohibited by HB 1970. HB 1970 effectively bans all medication abortions,” said the court. “[T]he plain language of the statute and the manner in which HB 1970 restricts the long-respected medical discretion of physicians in the specific context of abortion compels an affirmative answer to both of the questions asked, and a position entirely consistent with our decision to affirm the ruling of the district court.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement following the ruling, “Today’s decision from the Oklahoma Supreme Court strongly reaffirms that this blatantly unconstitutional law was designed to not only rob women of the safe, legal, and effective option of medication to end a pregnancy at its earliest stages, but also threaten the health, lives, and future fertility of women suffering from ectopic pregnancies.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will now decide whether it will continue to hear the case in light of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling.

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