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Strict Oklahoma abortion laws spark court battles

By The Associated Press Published: October 23, 2009
p /> “These are tragic situations for people, and we're not trying to compound anyone's emotional state,” said Sullivan, of Tulsa.

He said the identities of the women who filled out the questionnaires would be kept private, because the forms don't ask for personally identifiable information and the Health Department has been directed to ensure personal information doesn't make it onto the Web site.

Opponents of the laws, including the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, have sued to stop them from taking effect, arguing that both were rolled into larger bills, violating a state constitutional provision requiring bills pertain to a single subject. A district court judge issued a temporary order this week preventing the questionnaire law from taking effect.

Another district court judge overturned the other law, which would require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound and to have a doctor talk them through what they're seeing. The law would require a doctor to use a vaginal transducer in the earliest stages of pregnancy, since that provides the clearest image when the fetus is small. The method is more invasive than the abdominal ultrasounds most pregnant women undergo.

The state has appealed that decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In the meantime, lawmakers who backed the abortion laws have said they'd likely resubmit them as separate measures during the next legislative session.

While most states have abortion reporting requirements, Oklahoma's laws in both areas are the most far-reaching in the nation, said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy analyst with the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group focused on sexual and reproductive health research.

Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi require ultrasounds in all abortion cases, and Arizona and Florida require them after the first trimester. But no other states require doctors to describe the image to women and mandate that a vaginal ultrasound be used in certain cases, Nash said.

Tony Lauinger, chairman of the anti-abortion group Oklahomans for Life, said the ultrasound law helps ensure women are fully aware of how developed the fetus is.

According to the state Department of Health, the number of annual abortions performed in Oklahoma has stayed relatively steady in recent years, with 6,322 in 2005, 6,595 in 2006 and 6,319 in 2007, the most recent year for which data was available.