TWICE in two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Oklahoma laws related to abortion. Lawmakers should learn from these defeats, and others like it. They should focus on passing bills grounded not in ideology but practicality.
Last week the nation's highest court chose not to review an Oklahoma law that would have required a doctor to use a vaginal probe or abdominal transducer to perform an ultrasound prior to an abortion, and to tell the woman what the ultrasound showed. Anti-abortion advocates view this as not overly intrusive or overbearing; indeed one federal appeals court has upheld a similar law.
However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said the law presented an unconstitutional burden on women. In deciding not to review it, the high court essentially concurred. No surprise, given that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently rejected efforts to restrict access to abortions. It was a long shot from the start that Oklahoma's law would hold up to the appeals that were promised even before lawmakers approved it.
The same is true of another abortion-related law that was struck down first by the state Supreme Court and then by the U.S. Supreme Court. That law involved the use of medication to induce abortion. The state court said it would have the effect of banning all drug-induced abortions; the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to review the case.
The state has had to invest time and resources defending these laws. The same thing happened after voters in 2010 approved a constitutional amendment — placed on the ballot by lawmakers — that would have prohibited state courts from considering Islamic law when deciding cases. Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the idea, but it was immediately blocked by a federal court judge in Oklahoma City and, ultimately, the results were decertified.
The same year, lawmakers put another controversial issue before voters — voter ID. But there were few if any concerns about constitutionality, as the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld similar laws.
These defeats on abortion won't chasten some Oklahoma lawmakers, and indeed might embolden them. They would make better use of their time by pursuing legislation that isn't automatically destined for the courts and doesn't have costs associated with it. May we suggest a ban on text-messaging for all drivers?
Oklahoma law bars new teenage drivers from texting at the wheel. But for all other motorists, texting and driving is allowed. Oklahoma is one of 11 holdouts nationwide that haven't outlawed texting at the wheel — an activity that makes the driver 23 times more likely to crash than non-texting drivers, according to the National Transportation Traffic Safety Administration.
Driving while distracted by a mobile device is something motorists of all ages are doing. A survey by State Farm, the insurance company, found that the percentage of drivers who said they went online while driving climbed from 13 percent in 2009 to 24 percent this year. Drivers 40 and older are contributing significantly to that increase, the survey found. “It's not just a youthful problem,” State Farm's head of technology research told USA Today.
A law banning texting and driving in Oklahoma wouldn't wind up in a courtroom. And it might even save a life — a productive use of lawmakers' time.