Supreme Court lets stand Oklahoma court ruling blocking ultrasound requirement

November 12, 2013
Lenell Ripley, second from left, cries as she demonstrates with other abortion rights supporters outside the Capitol auditorium in Austin, Tex., on July 18, 2013. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Lenell Ripley, second from left, cries as she demonstrates with other abortion rights supporters outside the Capitol auditorium in Austin, Tex., on July 18, 2013. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The Supreme Court decided Tuesday not to review a ruling by Oklahoma’s highest court that requiring women to undergo a narrated ultrasound exam before obtaining an abortion is unconstitutional.

The decision marks the second time this month the nation's highest court has declined to take up a challenge to the Oklahoma Supreme Court's rulings on abortion. On Nov. 4, the court opted not to review a decision by the state Supreme Court that a major portion of Oklahoma’s restrictive abortion law is unconstitutional because it effectively bans all drug-induced abortions.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge on behalf of three Oklahoma plaintiffs — a nonprofit advocacy group, an abortion doctor and a reproductive health-care facility — in April 2010 to block the law, which would have forced every woman seeking an abortion in the state to undergo an ultrasound, have the image placed in front of her and hear a state-mandated script.

A district court judge granted a temporary restraining order against the law in May 2010 and then a permanent injunction in March 2012. The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling in December 2012.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, welcomed the ruling Tuesday.

“A woman’s personal, private medical decisions should be made in consultation with the health-care professionals she trusts, without interference by politicians who presume to know better," Northup said in a statement. “Today the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand another strong decision by the Oklahoma courts protecting a woman’s constitutional right to make her own decisions about whether to continue a pregnancy from the intrusion of politicians opposed to her rights and indifferent to her health."

The Oklahoma state legislature passed the ultrasound law in 2010, and it was struck down by the state Supreme Court in March 2012.

Many other states have passed legislation requiring ultrasounds before an abortion can be performed, but not all of the laws are the same. While some efforts have pushed for transvaginal ultrasounds, most require less-invasive external ultrasounds, for example. Most of the laws don't require the woman to view the image or the doctor to describe it, as the Oklahoma law does.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, laws similar to the Oklahoma ultrasound law currently exist in Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin.

Aaron Blake contributed to this post.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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