Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down State Law Requiring Ultrasound Prior to Abortion

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down a state law that required women to obtain an ultrasound prior to proceeding with an abortion.

In the short 3-page decision issued this week, the court ruled that the law, which mandated that abortionists perform an ultrasound while describing the view of the unborn baby in detail an hour before ending the child’s life, was unconstitutional. It pointed to the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which outlined that state laws cannot inhibit a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

“Because the United States Supreme Court has previously determined the dispositive issue presented in this manner, this court is not free to impose its own view of the law,” the justices wrote. “The Oklahoma Constitution reaffirms the effect of the supremacy clause on Oklahoma law by providing, ‘The state of Oklahoma is an inseparable part of the federal union, and the constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.’”

As previously reported, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, written by Reagan-appointed Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, was issued via a Republican plurality opinion in a joint agreement between O’Connor, Justice David Souter, appointed by George H.W. Bush and Justice Anthony Kennedy, also appointed by Reagan.

“For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail,” wrote O’Connor on behalf of the court. “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

The Oklahoma Supreme Court also cited Planned Parenthood v. Casey in April of this year when it struck down a proposed ballot initiative from Personhood USA, which sought to include in the state Constitution a clause that would grant unborn children rights as persons.

The court’s ruling this week in the ultrasound matter upheld the district court’s decision in March, when Judge Bryan Dixon declared the law unconstitutional because it “addresses only patients, abortionists, and sonographers dealing with abortions and not other medical personnel.”

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The legislation was originally passed in a bipartisan effort in 2010, but was vetoed by former Democratic governor Brad Henry, who claimed that the requirement could result in a “potential futile legal battle.” Republicans overrode the veto, thus making the ultrasound bill state law.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights then filed suit to block the requirement on behalf of Nova Health Systems, which owns Reproductive Services of Tulsa, and an abortionist in Norman, Oklahoma. It claimed that the law violated a woman’s “right” to be free from unwanted information, and that it questioned a woman’s ability to decide whether or not to end the life of her unborn child.

The Center praised the state Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday.

“The court has resoundingly affirmed what should not be a matter of controversy at all — that women have both a fundamental right to make their own choices about their reproductive health, and that government has no place in their decisions,”said president Nancy Northup.

However, Mary Spaulding Bach of Oklahoma Right to Life told reporters that she believes ultrasound machines are wonderful tools to help women understand the reality that their baby is not a mere mass of tissue.

“Ultrasound is a window to the womb which provides mothers with the opportunity to accurately see their unborn children moving, kicking and very much alive,” she said. “Ultrasound laws save lives. According to a 2011 Quinnipiac University study, ‘Ultrasound requirement laws reduce the odds of a woman having an abortion quite substantially.’ This finding would explain why ultrasound laws provoke such powerful reactions from our opponents…”

As part of the decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court also threw out a law that banned generic abortion drugs from being used in medical abortions.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the off-label use of abortion-inducing drugs leads to serious infections and death for many healthy, unsuspecting women,” state Attorney General Scott Pruitt said. “This is not OK. Our job is to protect the citizens of Oklahoma, and we will consider an appeal.”

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