WASHINGTON, DC — Oklahoma lost another round in its effort to restrict abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday declined to hear an appeal in a case that would force women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound first.
The justices, without comment, refused to accept the state’s appeal over HB 2780, which would require healthcare providers to perform an ultrasound scan before terminating a woman’s pregnancy.
Lower state courts found the law unconstitutional. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said those judges did not give proper legal weight to previous high court rulings allowing some regulation and restriction on abortions.
The new law mandated that pregnant women seeking an abortion be given the chance to view the ultrasound image and be given a medical description, including “the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, if present and viewable, and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.”
Neither the woman nor her doctor would be punished or penalized if she refused to look at those images, but the procedure, performed either vaginally or abdominally, and the explanation would be required.
State lawmakers supporting the legislation said the ultrasound requirement was designed to allow women to make an “informed decision” before undergoing an abortion.
Abortion rights groups objected to the Oklahoma statute.
“Oklahoma’s unusual law imposes serious burdens on a woman’s decision whether to terminate a pregnancy,” said the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to stay out of the case.
“It is difficult to imagine a requirement more physically invasive than the state-mandated insertion of a medical device into one’s body even when the patient and the doctor think it unnecessary.”
The U.S. high court last week dismissed an Oklahoma appeal on a separate state law limiting abortions performed with medicine instead of surgery.
That law would have regulated the ability of doctors to prescribe a medication regime — using RU-486 pills — to terminate early pregnancies, and make it a crime to deviate from the federal government-approved dosage and time limits on the drugs.
But many physicians, backed by abortion rights supporters, say they routinely induce medical abortions through a combination of drugs they determine is simpler, safer, and less expensive than the current federal protocols on the use of abortion drugs.
This was the first of several restrictive abortion laws nationwide to get a recent review by the Supreme Court.
A federal appeals court last month allowed a similar law from Texas on medical abortions to go into effect. But a coalition of abortion rights groups immediately asked the Supreme Court for an emergency injunction to block that law’s enforcement. The justices could rule on that request as soon as Tuesday.
The Oklahoma ultrasound case is Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems (12-1170). The pending Texas case is Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott, Texas Attorney General (12A452).
By Bill Mears
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