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Judge tosses challenge to Oklahoma's abortion waiting period

Oklahoma City — Opponents of a law extending the time women must wait before an abortion say they are not done fighting despite an Oklahoma County judge's decision to toss their legal challenge to the 72-hour waiting period.

Reproductive Services, a Tulsa clinic that offers abortions, sued the state in October 2015. The lawsuit challenged both House Bill 1721, which requires the abortion provider to stop the fetus' heart before performing a type of second-trimester abortion, and HB 1409, which would require women seeking abortions to wait three days between the initial appointment and the procedure.

Previously, the law required a one-day waiting period. HB 1409 includes an exception for cases where an immediate abortion is necessary to prevent a woman's death or “irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

Judge Patricia Parrish granted part of the state's request to toss the lawsuit on Tuesday. She found that the waiting period change was not an unconstitutional “special law” that treated abortion differently from similar procedures. She declined to throw out the portion of the lawsuit dealing with second-trimester abortions, however.

Representatives for the Oklahoma attorney general's office said they consider the waiting period question closed. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic, issued a statement that it would appeal the judge's decision once the rest of the case is decided.

The waiting period law has been in effect since 2015. The state and the clinic disagree about whether experience has validated or disproven fears that women would have more difficulty accessing abortions.

The clinic reported the longer waiting time meant that some women missed the 10-week cut-off for medication-only abortion and underwent a surgical procedure, while others had to leave the state after passing Oklahoma's 17-week limit for all abortions.

“This medically unnecessary 72-hour waiting period insults women and adds needless hurdles to accessing abortion care,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a written statement.

The state argued that the passage of time had shown the plaintiffs' fears of a “devastating effect” were unfounded. According to a sample of patient records reviewed by the state, abortions within 72 hours did become less common after the law took effect. About 10 percent of women in a sample the state obtained had an abortion within three days before the law took effect, while only about 1 percent did afterward.

“Nearly three years later, it is clear that this claim of devastation was nonsense,” the state said in its petition to throw out the lawsuit.

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›