Why Oklahoma's Supreme Court struck down an abortion law

In a unanimous opinion, the nine-member Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed that the 2015 law violates a 'single subject rule' that requires each legislative bill to address only one subject.

Sue Ogrocki/AP/File
Dr. Larry Burns of Norman, Okla., who performs nearly half of Oklahoma's abortions, listens during a July 2015 hearing on the abortion law Oklahoma passed last year. Oklahoma's Supreme Court has now struck the law down.

Oklahoma’s highest court struck down a law Tuesday that justices say imposed an unconstitutional restriction on a woman’s right to have an abortion.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to strike down the law is a victory for abortion rights activists, who say that the statute might have led to the undue anxiety for individuals who required or provided abortions.

"Today's decision is a critical victory for Oklahoma women and their doctors, who will no longer face the threat of criminal prosecution simply for providing safe and legal health care to their patients," said Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup.

The law was passed in 2015, but the court placed a hold on its implementation while the law’s constitutionality was in question.

In the end, the court’s unanimous decision was based on a violation of Oklahoma’s constitution, which requires that each law can only concern a single subject. While the state attempted to argue that the law did concern one subject, namely, women’s health, it was eventually unsuccessful.

"We reject defendants' arguments and find this legislation violates the single subject rule as each of these sections is so unrelated and misleading that a legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice," Justice Joseph Watt wrote in the court’s opinion.

Four judges also argued in a concurring opinion that they would have also called the law a constitutional violation of a woman’s right to an abortion.

Had the court allowed the legislation to stand, any physician found to have performed an abortion could be sentenced to one to three years in jail, and have their license taken away.

Since 2010, 18 other states have passed abortion restrictions, measures that some liberal legislators say can imperil women’s health.

But Oklahoma's legislation stands apart, as Maya Manian, a University of San Francisco law professor who lectures and writes about abortion writes, told The Christian Science Monitor in May. 

"This law is more blatantly unconstitutional," Dr. Manian told the Monitor at the time. "Criminalizing the act of abortion is a more direct attack on abortion rights," which "will never be immediately struck out as long as Roe v. Wade is good law."

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law in court. The center’s president, Ms. Northup, called the law "nothing but a cynical attack on women's health and rights by unjustly targeting their trusted health care providers."

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