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Two new abortion bills become law, but one is being challenged by a reproductive rights center


LeighAnne Manwarren May 6th, 2010

Less than two weeks after enacting a bill requiring abortion patients to undergo an ultrasound, Oklahoma courts granted a pro-choice group's request to temporarily prevent the state from carrying out ...

Less than two weeks after enacting a bill requiring abortion patients to undergo an ultrasound, Oklahoma courts granted a pro-choice group's request to temporarily prevent the state from carrying out the law.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-choice law firm based in New York City, filed a lawsuit against the state concerning House Bill 2780 and wishes to see the law be struck down based on it being unconstitutional by state constitution.

Authored by Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Purcell, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, HB 2780 requires an ultrasound be given an hour prior to all abortions performed to ensure the patient has made an informed decision about the procedure. According to the law, a doctor or certified technician must display a clear view of the ultrasound for the woman seeking the abortion, and provide a medical description of its images, including the size and heartbeat of the fetus. Afterward, the woman must sign a form saying the ultrasound procedure was performed, which goes into the patient's medical file.

HB 2780, along with House Bill 2656, was vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, on April 23. In his veto message, he stated that, while he supports reasonable abortion restrictions, the two bills had many flaws.

"HB 2780 represents an unconstitutional attempt by the Oklahoma Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of its citizens," Henry said. "State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma. To do so amounts to an unconstitutional invasion of privacy."

The Oklahoma House and Senate overrode Henry's vetoes April 26 and 27, making these bills into law, effective immediately.

Jennifer Mondino, a staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, is representing Reproductive Services of Tulsa and Dr. Larry Burns of Norman, which both perform abortions. She said in the week after overriding the veto, both practitioners have had a significant burden placed on them, both emotionally and logistically.

"We have been in touch with our clients (since HB 2780 was overridden), and they are telling us stories of having women break down into tears hearing the description of the ultrasound," Mondino said. "It has been a very emotionally trying week."

Because of the language of the law, both practices are strained to meet the requirement of having a doctor or certified technician perform each ultrasound for each patient they already have scheduled to serve, she said. Although similar pieces of legislation are pending in the House, Mondino said that because of HB 2780's immediate effect on women's rights, the center filed suit quickly.

"It is striking that a pro-abortion organization based in New York believes they know what is best for Oklahomans and will go to the expense of filing suit over a bill that passed both legislative bodies by wide, bipartisan margins," Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, stated in a press release. "The left consistently claims that education and more information is always beneficial for our citizens. Now, we pass a bill which would provide more information for a woman contemplating the decision to end a life growing inside of her, and we hear them claim that more information is not beneficial in this case."

Also overridden by the Oklahoma Legislature was Henry's veto to HB 2656, authored by Rep. Daniel Sullivan, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. According to the law, patients cannot sue or collect damages from their medical provider in a "wrongful life" action that resulted from a doctor holding back information on the state of a fetus for fear the woman would have had an abortion.

According to Henry's veto message, HB 2656 is unfair to all pregnant women and their families because they "should expect to receive accurate, comprehensive information from their doctor so they can make appropriate medical decisions. It is unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform a pregnant woman in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on his patient."

Unlike HB 2656 and HB 2780, House Bill 3075 " authored by Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha " was signed into law April 23. According to the law, all facilities performing abortions that are not life-threatening must post a sign stating it is against the law for anyone to be forced to have the procedure.

The other two House bills passed by the Senate, House Bill 3284 and House Bill 3290, are back in the House, pending a conference to further discuss its parts.

House Bill 2780 calls for using a vaginal probe for the ultrasound or an abdominal transducer, depending on the visibility. "LeighAnne Manwarren

photo
House Bill 2780 calls for using a vaginal probe for the ultrasound or an abdominal transducer, depending on the visibility. photo/Shannon Cornman
 
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