The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

August 19, 2013

Judge blocks Oklahoma morning-after pill restrictions

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma judge Monday blocked a new state law that makes it harder for women to obtain the morning-after pill.

In June, the federal government approved unrestricted over-the-counter sales for the emergency contraceptive. Oklahoma's law was passed in response to the government's plans to do so and requires women 17 and older to show identification to a pharmacist to obtain the Plan B One-Step pill and generic emergency contraceptives. It also requires women under 17 to have a prescription to obtain them.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice and Jo Ann Mangili of Mounds, the mother of a 15-year-old girl, alleging the rule is unconstitutional and discriminates against Oklahoma women.

District Judge Lisa Davis granted the temporary restraining order just days before the law was to take effect Thursday.

More than a dozen women wearing pink shirts, some of which bore the words "Trust Oklahoma Women," attended the hearing.

Martha Skeeters, president of the coalition, said she was pleased with the judge's action.

"The outcome today is good news for the health of Oklahoma women," Skeeters said.

Diane Clay, director of communications for Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office, said it is disappointed.

"The law simply keeps requirements the same as they have been for more than a decade, requiring those under age 17 to have a prescription to buy Plan B emergency contraceptives," Clay said in a statement.

Opponents are also seeking a permanent injunction against the law, but a hearing on that request has not been scheduled.

David Brown, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Oklahoma's restrictions on the contraceptive are unique in the nation.

The Oklahoma Legislature passed the law — part of a measure primarily dealing with regulations regarding health insurance benefit forms — last spring, and it received bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Gov. Mary Fallin signed it on May 29.

In granting the temporary restraining order, Davis said she was concerned whether the two sections of the law are germane to each other.

Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick said the emergency contraceptive was available only by prescription for more than a decade and that the legislation was intended to maintain the status quo before the contraceptive was federally approved for over-the-counter access.

The language was added to an existing bill late in the 2013 legislative session because the deadline for filing new legislation had passed, Wyrick said.

"There is no evidence that this was logrolled into passage," Wyrick said. "It was just a matter of legislative necessity."

Brown argued that the law violates the Oklahoma Constitution's single-subject rule that restricts laws to just one issue. By combining unrelated requirements in a single bill, or logrolling, lawmakers were left with a "forced, all-or-nothing choice," he told Davis.

The lawsuit is the latest challenge to anti-abortion and related legislation adopted by the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature by the Center for Reproductive Rights

In December, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down laws challenged by the group that required women seeking abortions to see an ultrasound image while hearing a description of the fetus and also banned off-label use of certain abortion-inducing drugs.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in June it would grant Pruitt's request to review the decision about the abortion-inducing drugs law, which mandated that doctors only prescribe abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486 as authorized by directions spelled out on a government-approved label.

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