Oklahoma Supreme Court keeps anti-abortion laws on hold while challenge is pending

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court reiterated its position on Tuesday in a 5-4 opinion that the state constitution guarantees a woman's right to an abortion when necessary to preserve her life, although the procedure remains illegal in virtually all other cases.

In a case involving a legal challenge to five separate anti-abortion bills passed by the Legislature in 2021, the court ordered a lower court to keep in place a temporary ban on three of those laws while the merits of the case are considered. Two of the laws were already put on hold by a district court judge.

The three laws addressed by the court include: requiring physicians performing an abortion to be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology; requiring physicians administering abortion drugs to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and requiring an ultrasound 72 hours before administering abortion drugs.

“We are grateful that the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized how these laws are medically baseless and threaten grave harm, while ensuring that they remain blocked as this case proceeds," said Rabia Muqaddam, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based abortion rights organization that sued the state, joined by Oklahoma abortion providers. “This is welcome news, but the devastating reality is that Oklahomans still do not have access to the abortion care they need.”

A spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said their office is reviewing the court's decision and will respond accordingly.

“It is worth underscoring, however, that these decisions do not impact Oklahoma's prohibition on abortion that remains the law of the land,” Drummond spokesman Phil Bacharach said.

Abortion providers stopped performing the procedure in Oklahoma in May 2022 after Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law what was then the strictest abortion ban in the country. About a month later, the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion, which led to abortion bans in more than 20 states.

The number of abortions performed in Oklahoma immediately dropped dramatically, falling from about 4,145 in 2021 to 898 in 2022, according to statistics from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. In at least 66 cases in 2022, the abortion was necessary to avert the death of the mother, the statistics show.

Abortion statistics for 2023 are not yet available, a health department spokeswoman said.