On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reaffirmed an earlier ruling, saying that the state restricting doctors’ use of drugs used to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy is unconstitutional. The court’s ruling will now set the stage for the United States Supreme Court to decide on the issue.
"Physicians know better than politicians what's right for their patients, and medical decisions should be made according to their advice and expertise, not any politician's ideological agenda to ban abortion," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The law in question was passed by the Oklahoma legislature in 2011, which requires doctors to follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines when administering abortion-inducing medications, like the FDA-approved mifepristone pill. The law had already been struck down by the state courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on appeal. A ruling could come as early as this term.
The U.S. Supreme Court asked Oklahoma’s highest court to clarify whether the law applied to all drugs used to induce abortion in the state, thus banning all drug-induced abortions. The ruling of the court on Tuesday was consistent with what it held previously: the law would place an “undue burden” on the ability of women to obtain abortions, which has been unconstitutional since Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1991.
"96% of the medication abortions in the United States are now provided according to a regimen different from the one described in mifepristone's FDA-approved label," the court said.
Proponents of the law say that safety concerns are the reason for its implementation and that those concerns are more important than the burden placed on women seeking abortions. While the court has decided to take a more broad interpretation of the law, the reality is that the ban — which was supposed to require abortion providers to use federal guidelines when administering RU-486 (or the “abortion pill” — actually resulted in a ban on all abortions using medication.
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court erred in striking down the law,” said E. Scott Pruitt, Okahoma’s attorney general. “We believe they have erred yet again by interpreting the law more broadly than the Legislature intended.”
Now, the stage is set for the case to move forward to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal. If the Court decides to review the case rather than letting it stand, the result could have a profound impact on women’s right to abortion nationwide.