By Kyle Schwab
A dispute over the constitutionality of a 2014 state law restricting the use of abortion-inducing drugs is headed back to a lower court.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday found the law constitutional on two grounds. The Supreme Court told an Oklahoma County judge to now determine the law's validity "under other constitutional provisions both state and federal."
The law has not gone into effect because of the constitutional challenges. The Supreme Court said a stay will remain in place until the challenges are fully and finally litigated.
Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish last year ruled the law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed that judgment, ruling 6-1 the law doesn't violate provisions of the state constitution that prohibit special laws and the delegation of legislative authority.
Writing for the majority, Justice Steven Taylor said, "It is not the place of this Court to question legislative wisdom."
The law prohibits "off-label" uses of abortion-inducing drugs. The law says that these drugs used in medical abortions must be administered only in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol.
Taylor wrote that the label use of these drugs allows its use within 49 days after a woman's period. The off-label use extends it to 63 days.
"Oklahoma women should never be denied a safe way to end a pregnancy because politicians in their state are fixated on eliminating legal abortion," Autumn Katz, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Tuesday in a news release. "Oklahoma politicians continue to ignore medical evidence and the very real harms that will befall women in the state if they are unable to access safe and legal care.
"We vow to stand with Oklahoma women in the face of these unconstitutional attempts to rob them of their health, their rights and their dignity."
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice and Reproductive Services, a nonprofit reproductive health care clinic in Tulsa.
Opponents to the law say the off-label methods are safer and produce fewer side effects. Attorneys working for Attorney General Scott Pruitt have argued the off-label way of administering the abortion-inducing drugs is the least safe method, saying it creates a higher risk of infections.
"I am pleased the Oklahoma Supreme Court has chosen to uphold HB 2684," Pruitt said. "The off-label use of abortion-inducing drugs has resulted in catastrophic consequences for women nationwide, and I appreciate the Oklahoma Legislature's efforts to protect the health and safety of Oklahoma women over the interests of the abortion industry."
Taylor noted that eight fatal bacterial infections have been reported in the United States where the women were administered the drugs by following the off-label protocol. The justice stated that the FDA has not established a casual connection between the off-label protocol and the deaths.
While Justice Douglas Combs agreed the law does not violate the state constitution on the two grounds at issue and is a permissible special law, he still noted concerns in a concurring opinion.
"Once again, those who do not practice medicine have determined to insert themselves between physicians and their patients, with the insistence they know what is best when it comes to the standard of care," Combs wrote in his opinion. "It is undisputed that the FDA's final printed labeling does not restrict or control a doctor's practice of medicine or the use of medication once it is distributed.
"The FDA understands the role of physicians in adhering to the best possible standard of care. In the form of HB 2684, the Oklahoma Legislature has chosen to ignore this."
The law does not prohibit all drug-induced abortions but "binds Oklahoma physicians and their patients to the FDA's final printed labeling, regardless of whether evidence and the judgment of the medical community indicate it is not the best method for providing medication abortion," Combs wrote.
The opinion notes that 96 percent of medical abortions do not follow the final printed labeling.
"Further, the medical community should take heed: Now that the Legislature has declared itself willing to dictate medical protocol and practice within this limited context, what areas of the practice of medicine are next?" Combs wrote.
In 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled that a bill banning drug-induced abortions altogether was unconstitutional. This 2014 law was created to overcome that objection.
(c)2016 The Oklahoman