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Oklahoma abortion restrictions blocked

Antiabortion activists protest in front of Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas in 2013. An Oklahoma law that was modeled on a Texas law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court was blocked by the state Supreme Court on Dec. 13. (Larry S. Smith/European Pressphoto Agency)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a state law that would have required abortion providers to have special relationships with hospitals, in continuing fallout from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year striking down a similar provision in Texas.

The Oklahoma measure, passed in 2014, required a physician to have so-called admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where he or she was performing an abortion. Supporters said it was necessary to ensure that the doctor could treat a woman at the hospital in case of a medical complication. Opponents argued that the standard was virtually impossible to meet, effectively preventing the doctor from performing abortions for no good medical reason considering how safe most abortions are. The law was opposed by medical groups, including the American Medical Association.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, the court found that the law “creates an undue burden on a woman’s access to abortion, violating protected rights under our federal constitution.” It also found that it violates the Oklahoma Constitution as well as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court decision six months ago that struck down a Texas law that, among other things, required admitting privileges of doctors who perform abortions.

It is the latest abortion regulation to be struck down in light of that recent high-court decision, which increased the burden on lawmakers to show that evidence supports a restriction enacted in the name of patient health. Shortly after that ruling, the Supreme Court let stand lower-court decisions in Mississippi and Wisconsin blocking admitting privileges laws. It also prompted groups last month to file lawsuits over laws in North Carolina, Missouri and Alaska on the grounds that the regulations are medically unnecessary.

“Today’s decision is a victory for Oklahoma women and another rebuke to politicians pushing underhanded laws that attack a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to safe, legal abortion,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. Her organization helped represent the plaintiff, Larry A. Burns, a doctor from Norman, Okla.

In a report issued separately Tuesday, Americans United for Life, an antiabortion group, enumerated violations recorded against abortion clinics in 32 states. The data show the need for regulations on clinics and doctors, such as ones that require admitting privileges, the organization said.

Because of the Whole Woman’s Health decision, “many of these protective laws may now be in jeopardy, subject to legal challenges brought by an increasingly predatory abortion industry more motivated by profit margins than by protecting the very women it claims to champion,” the group said.