Okla. Judge Rules Against Abortion Law Requiring Ultrasound

An Oklahoma judge overturned a law that required doctors to provide ultrasounds before performing abortions.

Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson made the ruling on Tuesday, saying the 2008 state law violated constitutional requirements that legislative measures deal only with one subject.

Her ruling overturned other provisions in the law, including one that allowed doctors and other healthcare providers to refuse to perform or take part in an abortion on moral or religious grounds and protected them from liability.

The legislation, which never went into effect because of legal action, was passed last year by the state legislature which overrode Governor Brad Henry's veto. Pro-lifers hailed the move as the state's strongest ultrasound bill yet. It required physicians to perform ultrasounds and provide a medical description of the fetus one hour prior to the procedure "in order for the woman to make an informed decision."

A Tulsa clinic filed a lawsuit, charging that the law violated the state Constitution's "single-subject" rule and infringed on a woman's right to privacy. The clinic also alleged it was unconstitutionally vague.

"The ultrasound provision takes away a patient's choice about whether or not to view an ultrasound, and it requires physicians to provide information to their patients that the physicians do not believe is medically necessary," said Stephanie Toti, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, according to The Los Angeles Times. "It's an affront to women's autonomy and decision-making power, and it's also an intrusion to the physician-patient relationship."

But Teresa Collett, a special assistant attorney general for Oklahoma, argued that it is common medical practice to require doctors to provide patients information that is necessary for an informed decision, and abortions should not be an exception.

She also rejected arguments that the law is vague.

The legislation clearly stated what the doctor should tell a woman when describing the ultrasound images, such as the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of external members and internal organs. It also contained a provision that allowed the pregnant woman to refuse to view the ultrasound images.

Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of public policy for Focus on the Family, told The Washington Post that women who have ultrasounds are twice as likely to decide against abortion.

"With an unintended pregnancy, a woman is very much caught up in her own situation. You don't confront the humanity of the child you're carrying. Looking at an ultrasound before you make that decision can certainly reduce the regret and heartache later," said Earll.

Ultrasound laws are in effect in 13 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Collett has not yet announced whether she will appeal the ruling.