Oklahoma Supreme Court rules two new anti-abortion laws are unconstitutional

June 1, 2023
Ben Marquis

In 2022, Republican-led Oklahoma passed into law two strict anti-abortion measures -- one that banned the procedure following the detection of a fetal heartbeat and the other a near-total ban with certain exceptions -- that were both enforced via civil lawsuits instead of state action.

Both of those laws were just struck down as unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling on Wednesday, according to the Washington Examiner.

The Wednesday ruling stemmed from a prior 5-4 decision by the same court in March in the case of Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice v. Drummond, which established the precedent that "the Oklahoma Constitution creates an inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate her pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life."

Two new laws struck down, but abortion still largely illegal

According to local news outlet KWTV, the Oklahoma Supreme Court considered challenges to the constitutionality of S.B. 1503, the heartbeat bill that only allowed an exception for an unspecified "medical emergency," and H.B. 4327, the near-total ban that allowed exceptions for a defined "medical emergency" as well as pregnancy resulting from a reported rape, sexual assault, or incest.

The court determined that based on the precedent set by the March ruling, both of the laws were unconstitutional, and it was duly noted that if the objectional portions of the law were severed out the laws themselves would become meaningless and unenforceable, as well as that any effort to "salvage" the remainder of the laws would require the court to "have to re-write the entire statute, which is not our purview."

However, regardless of those two recent anti-abortion laws being struck down as unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported that abortion still remains largely illegal in the state thanks to a law on the books passed more than a century ago.

"Despite the court’s decisions today on SB 1503 and HB 4327, Oklahoma’s 1910 law prohibiting abortion remains in place," Republican Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a statement. "Except for certain circumstances outlined in that statute, abortion is still unlawful in the state of Oklahoma."

Governor and House Speaker decry ruling

"I again wholeheartedly disagree with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s use of activism to create a right to an abortion in Oklahoma," Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement. "This court has once more over-involved itself in the state's democratic process, and has interceded to undo legislation created by the will of the people. I agree with Justice Rowe’s dissent, 'The issues presented in this matter are political questions, which are better resolved by the people via our democratic process.'"

"As governor, I will continue to do my part to fight to protect the lives of the unborn," the Oklahoma governor added. "From the moment life begins at conception, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect that baby's life and the life of the mother. Oklahoma will keep working to be the most pro-family state in the nation."

Also weighing in on the ruling was Oklahoma's Republican House Speaker Charles McCall, who issued a statement that said, "I am disappointed with today’s ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding SB1503 and HB4327. A supermajority of members in both chambers supported this legislation that was signed by the governor."

"However, Oklahomans can rest assured that House Republicans will continue to protect the lives of the unborn and pursue legislation that values all life," he added. "Thanks to the leadership of House and Senate Republicans, Oklahoma is one of the most pro-life states in the nation. Today’s ruling won’t change that, and we will continue to be a voice for the voiceless as we strive to protect the right to life in the State of Oklahoma."

Even Planned Parenthood displeased with narrowness of ruling

Interestingly enough, even the pro-abortion side of the issue was less than thrilled with the Oklahoma Supreme Court's ruling in their favor, largely because they believed the ruling was too narrowly constrained to the "medical emergency" problem and didn't go far enough in expanding access to abortion procedures.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Plains said in a tweet, "Today’s ruling clarifies emergency situations, but most Oklahomans still don’t have access to care. We’re relieved the court has upheld abortion rights in emergencies, but our fight for access continues. We’re here to help you reach the care you deserve."

It will be something to watch for if the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature returns to the drawing board and rewrites these same laws again, albeit with better-defined language to pass constitutional muster, and attempts to further restrict abortion procedures in the near future.

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