Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Admitting Privileges Law as ‘Undue Burden’ on Abortion Access

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, stating that the requirement places an “undue burden” on mothers’ access to abortion.

“Under the guise of the protection of women’s health, [the law] creates an undue burden on a woman’s access to abortion, violating protected rights under our federal Constitution,” wrote Justice Joseph Watt wrote on behalf of the court. “Every woman in this country has a constitutionally protected right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy before viability. This right is protected from undue interference from the state.”

Lawmakers had passed Senate Bill 1848 in 2014, which required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital not more than 30 miles away in the event that a woman suffers an injury during an abortion or if the child is born alive.

“On any day when any abortion is performed in a facility providing abortions, a physician with admitting privileges at a general medical surgical hospital which offers obstetrical or gynecological care in this state within thirty (30) miles of where the abortion is being performed must remain on the premises of the facility to facilitate the transfer of emergency cases if hospitalization of an abortion patient or a child born alive is necessary and until all abortion patients are stable and ready to leave the recovery room,” the law read in part.

But abortionist Larry Burns of Abortion Surgery Center in Norman filed suit to challenge the regulation since he was unable to find a hospital that wanted to work with him, which would result in fines or the closure of his facility.

The law was upheld in February, but Burns, being represented by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“In 41 years of private medical practice, Burns has only called an ambulance one time for a patient who was simply observed and released from a local emergency room,” Watt wrote on Tuesday. “We find there is no evidence to support defendants’ position that this legislation protects and advances women’s health.”

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He also pointed to the June U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar admitting privileges bill in Texas.

“Whether in Oklahoma, Texas, or elsewhere, allowing politicians to trample women’s rights by shutting down clinics is not only wrong—it’s dangerous,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a victory for Oklahoma women and another rebuke to politicians pushing underhanded laws that attack a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to safe, legal abortion.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said that she was disappointed by the outcome.

“I’m disappointed to see another pro-life law struck down by the courts,” she remarked. “Like many bills passed in Oklahoma, this bill was designed to protect the health and welfare of the mother along with the life of the unborn, which always should be among our society’s priorities.”

Fallin, who describes herself as the “most pro-life governor in the nation,” vetoed a bill in May that would have criminalized the performance of an abortion in the state and revoke the medical license of any physicians who ends the life of an unborn child.


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