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Oklahoma Supreme Court rules two abortion bills unconstitutional

The Oklahoma Supreme Court bench is pictured in the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City, Monday, May 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki
The Oklahoma Supreme Court bench is pictured in the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City, Monday, May 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled two bills banning abortions unconstitutional on Wednesday.

Justices ruled in a 6-3 decision that the state’s abortion bans passed last year are too restrictive and vague for doctors. Those laws made abortion illegal, except in a “medical emergency.”

Senate Bill 1503 was modeled after the Texas heartbeat bill, and stated abortions were banned after a heartbeat was detected, usually six weeks into pregnancy.

A total ban on abortions,House Bill 4327 forbid the procedure unless one was necessary to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy was the result of rape, sexual assault or incest and the case had been reported to law enforcement.

Both bills use civil lawsuits for enforcement, rather than through criminal prosecution, setting up a kind of bounty system.

The Supreme Court struck down the laws because of their “medical emergency” to occur before an abortion can be performed in a 6-3 vote. The courtruled in March that the state constitution includes the right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy should it be necessary to save her life.

ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director Tamya Cox-Toure said while the ruling will not restore full abortion access in the state, it does clarify that a dire medical emergency does not need to happen in order to receive the procedure.

“The short story is that we are pleased with this decision,” Cox-Toure said. “However, because of our pre-Roe abortion bans, Oklahoma does not have full access to abortion care, even in light of these laws being struck down as unconstitutional.”

In a statement, House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) wrote he was disappointed by the ruling and GOP lawmakers will continue to pursue anti-abortion legislation.

He called Oklahoma one of the most pro-life states, adding that the Supreme Court’s ruling will not change that status.

“A supermajority of members in both chambers supported this legislation that was signed by the governor,” McCall wrote. “We will continue to be a voice for the voiceless as we strive to protect the right to life in the state of Oklahoma.”

His comments were echoed by Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat.

"Today’s decision is another example of why comprehensive judicial reform is needed sooner than later. In the meantime, it is important for Oklahomans to know that leaders in the legislature are committed to the right to life in Oklahoma," Treat said in a statement.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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