Health & Human Services

Oklahoma Set the Stage for Abortion Case to Reach U.S. Supreme Court

October 30, 2013
 

Oklahoma's high court on Tuesday set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether states can restrict doctors from prescribing two drugs used to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.

The case could be the first test of whether the court's conservative majority will uphold a string of new state laws across the country that seek to strictly regulate legal abortions.

In the last three years, Republican-led states have passed laws to limit abortion without banning it outright. The laws are designed in part to test the Supreme Court's willingness to retreat from the right to abortion established in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling.

Several of the laws would require abortion clinics to expand their facilities to match those of outpatient surgery centers and demand that a doctor have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. A federal judge in Texas struck down one such provision Monday on the grounds that women can receive emergency care at a nearby hospital regardless of whether her doctor has admitting privileges. Texas officials have filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, 12 states, including Arizona, have prohibited nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, instead of the 24 weeks commonly accepted for a viable fetus. Arizona's law was struck down by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and the state has asked the Supreme Court to revive it.

But first in line at the Supreme Court has been a dispute over whether states may restrict how doctors prescribe medications that are used to induce abortions in the first weeks of pregnancy.

The legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio and several other states have adopted laws that require doctors to follow the Food and Drug Administration's protocols for the use of "any abortion-inducing drug." These laws forbid doctors to prescribe medications for "off-label use."

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