Oklahoma Judge Strikes Down Law Mandating Ultrasounds Before Abortions

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An Oklahoma judge decided Tuesday that doctors do not need to perform ultrasounds and offer women detailed information about the tests before performing abortions, striking down the strictest such law in the country.

Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki L. Robertson ruled that the 2008 law, which included other abortion-related provisions, violated a state constitutional provision that requires laws to address only one subject.

Thirteen states regulate the provision of ultrasounds by abortion providers, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health think tank. The provisions have been pushed by abortion opponents as a means of deterring women from having the procedures.

The Oklahoma law, which was never enforced, was the first to mandate that any woman seeking an abortion must have an ultrasound and that doctors describe the image in detail, including organs and extremities, even if the woman objects.

A Tulsa clinic run by Nova Health Systems, represented by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, filed a lawsuit charging that the law not only violated the state Constitution's "single-subject" rule but also infringed on a woman's right to privacy, violated her dignity and endangered her health.

The law could have forced Nova and Oklahoma's two other abortion clinics to close, said Stephanie Toti, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, because doctors and employees would fear felony charges for violating vague components of the law.

"We hope this sends a message to legislatures around the country that the Constitution matters. They can't trample on anybody's constitutional rights when passing these restrictive laws," Toti said.

State Sen. Todd Lamb (R), the bill's principal sponsor, said he will probably ask the attorney general to appeal the ruling.

Mike Jestes, executive director of the Oklahoma Family Policy Council, said that he expects such an appeal and that, if courts uphold the judge's ruling, the various components of the law would be introduced as separate bills.

"It's a compilation of mini-bills; if this bill isn't upheld, those bills will need to come single-file through the same door," he said.

The law also could have forced doctors to follow FDA labeling in administering the medical abortion pill. Toti said this was of grave concern to clinic clients, because doctors normally have the power to prescribe drugs off-label. Such limits would run contrary to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' recommendations for the pill's use.

The law's other provisions included mandatory signage telling women they cannot be coerced into abortions and protection from employment discrimination for employees who oppose abortion.

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