House Bill 2780, passed in 2010, mandated that ultrasounds be performed on women seeking abortions within one hour of the procedure, have the image placed in front of her, accompanied by a verbal description of the results—even if she objects. The eight justices who heard the case unanimously voted to throw out the law. Justice Noma Gurich did not vote, recusing herself because she had been involved in lower court proceedings on the law.
All nine judges voted to find House Bill 1970 unconstitutional. This bill, enacted last year, sought to prohibit the use of RU-486 and other medications that can induce abortion.
Both decisions were based on lawsuits brought by the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. The lawsuit against forced invasive ultrasounds was joined by Nova Health Systems and Dr. Larry Burns, two of three abortion providers in the state.
“Both laws posed real threats to the dignity and health of women in Oklahoma, as well as access to safe abortion care,” Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a phone interview from the group’s headquarters in New York. “The Oklahoma Supreme Court recognizes that the U.S. Supreme Court has established the right to abortion for all women in the U.S. The Oklahoma legislature is bound to respect that.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the three plaintiffs against House Bill 2780 in April 2010, when the law was passed by the state legislature. It was blocked by a district judge in March this year.
“The court has resoundingly affirmed what should not be a matter of controversy at all—that women have both a fundamental right to make their own choices about their reproductive health, and that government has no place in their decisions,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a press release March 28.
In April, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned an effort to organize a referendum that sought to legally define a fertilized egg as a person.
All three decisions were based on federal Supreme Court rulings upholding Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion in the U.S. This decision was won as a result of shifts in attitudes coming out of the mass proletarian struggle for Black rights that defeated Jim Crow segregation, as well as the fight against the Vietnam War and for women’s rights that arose out of that victory.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told the press Dec. 4 that the state government may appeal the decision. “We disagree with the court decision, particularly with the fact that the question on whether Oklahoma’s Constitution provides a right to an abortion was left unanswered,” he said.
The attorney general has 90 days to petition for appeal.
“The fact that it was a unanimous decision says that it stands on pretty solid ground,” Toti said.
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