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More Oklahoma abortion restrictions could end up in court

Oklahoma’s track record on defending abortion laws is not good, and more challenges may be coming.
by Rick Green Modified: July 25, 2014 at 1:32 pm •  Published: July 25, 2014

In recent years, courts have struck down several measures passed by the Oklahoma Legislature to restrict abortions.

Backers of two more such measures, due to go into effect Nov. 1, expressed confidence Thursday that this time their legislation will hold up legally — an opinion disputed by an attorney for a group that has successfully sued the state in the past.

“I believe that undoubtedly there will be a legal challenge,” said Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “I think we are on safe legal ground, and that it is very defensible, although I can’t say unequivocally, because when it goes to a courtroom, you never know what an individual judge could rule.”

Lawmakers approved a bill this year requiring that medical facilities where abortions are performed have a doctor on hand with admitting privileges at a general medical facility within 30 miles.

They also approved House Bill 2684, which requires that certain abortion-inducing drugs be administered only in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a similar bill, approved in 2011, was unconstitutional and that it effectively banned all drug-induced abortions. Backers of this year’s bill rewrote the legislation to overcome that objection.

But the court also noted that 96 percent of medication abortions are provided according to a regimen different from the one originally described in the FDA-approved label for mifepristone, or RU-486, which is used in a two-drug combination to end a pregnancy.

“As respondents correctly point out, and as the FDA recognizes, human progress is not static: medical research and advances do not stop upon a particular drug’s approval by the FDA,” the court opinion states.

Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that in trying to ban off-label uses of these drugs, lawmakers produced a bill that runs counter to the court opinion.

“The changes that the Legislature made this year in (House Bill) 2684 do not clear the constitutional defect in this instance and that is because the highest court in the state of Oklahoma made very clear that FDA labeling is not intended to preclude physicians from using their best medical judgment,” she said.

Typical off-label uses of the abortion medication allow for women to take the second day of the drug regimen at home. They also allow for lower dosages and for the medicine to be used about a week later in the pregnancy than the 49 days stated on the label, Allen said.

Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, said the intent of the bill is to protect women and that there can be deadly side-effects with off-label use.

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by Rick Green
Capitol Bureau Chief
Rick Green is the Capitol Bureau Chief of The Oklahoman. A graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., he worked as news editor for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City before joining The Oklahoman.
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