Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Abortion Law For Violating Single-Subject Rule | KGOU
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Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Abortion Law For Violating Single-Subject Rule

Oct 4, 2016

The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a state law that would’ve placed new restrictions on abortion providers.

Dr. Larry Burns sits in a courtroom as he waits for a hearing to begin in Oklahoma City, Thursday, July 9, 2015.
Credit Sue Ogrocki / AP

In a unanimous ruling, the state’s high court said the law Gov. Mary Fallin signed in June 2015 violates the Oklahoma constitutional requirement that laws deal with only one subject.

“A legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice,” the decision says.

Senate Bill 642 contains four key provisions:

  • Parental consent for minors seeking new abortions
  • Forensic protocol for statutory rape investigations
  • Abortion facility inspections
  • Legal liability for abortion providers

The court’s 9-0 decision called the four sections “unrelated and misleading.”

“We find that each of the four sections of SB 642, lack a common purpose and are not germane, relative and cognate. Although each section relates in some way to abortion, the broad sweep of each section does not cure the single subject defects in this bill,” the decision says. “Although defendants urge that SB 642 does not constitute logrolling, we find the provisions are so unrelated that those voting on this bill were faced with a constitutionally prohibited all-or-nothing choice to ensure the passage of favorable legislation.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based advocacy group, challenged the law and sued on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns. The Norman physician performs nearly half of the state’s abortions. The Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked the law from going into effect while the lawsuit worked its way through the court system.

“Today’s decision is a critical victory for Oklahoma women and their doctors, who will no longer face the threat of criminal prosecution simply for providing safe and legal health care to their patients,” the group’s president and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement. “This law was nothing but a cynical attack on women’s health and rights by unjustly targeting their trusted health care providers.”

Tuesday's ruling could also hint at how the justices view another pending decision. Four of the nine justices went further than the single-subject provision, saying they had to consider how the law might burden women seeking an abortion, according to The Journal Record's Dale Denwalt:

The court, however, very nearly overturned the law based on a recent federal court decision on abortion. Four justices, including the retiring Justice Steven Taylor, sided with Vice Chief Justice Douglas Combs’ opinion that the Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling applies to Oklahoma’s regulation attempt. In Hellerstedt, Combs wrote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that along with the benefits of a law, courts must consider how legislation burdens abortion access.

The concurring opinion could signal the court’s thinking about another case filed by Burns, which challenges a law similar to the one struck down in Hellerstedt.

The concurring opinion could give insight into how the court will handle another abortion law challenge. Two years ago, Oklahoma lawmakers adopted a bill similar to the unconstitutional Texas law. That case has not yet been decided. 

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