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Friday, August 18th, 2017Last Update: Tuesday, August 1st, 2017 01:57:38 PM

Oklahoma Abortion Center Opens and Court Strikes Down Abortion Regulation Law

By: Constitution Staff

While Oklahoma has earned a reputation as being one of 18 states that is considered hostile to the performance of abortions, the protection of the unborn had some recent setbacks in the state. The first new abortion facility to be licensed in the state since 1974 opened in Oklahoma City in September, and a Pro-life bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor last year was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in October.

The new abortion facility is located in south Oklahoma City. Julie Burkhart, who operates the South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas, said they felt like there was an opportunity to fill a need in this part of the state. When Outpatient Services for Women closed in 2014, Burkhart says Oklahoma City became the largest metropolitan area in the United States without an abortion facility. There are only two other abortion centers in the state, one in Tulsa and one in Norman.

The businesswoman once ran an abortion facility in Kansas for the late-term abortionist George Tiller who was long a target of anti-abortion activists. In the 1980s the facility was bombed, in 1993 he was shot, and in 2009 he was killed by an anti-abortion activist.

Burkhart purchased a former eye clinic at 1240 SW 44th Street in Oklahoma City and spent about $1 million to renovate and open the South Wind Women’s Center. She said their facility in Kansas had many patients from Oklahoma, and they expect to see patients from Texas at the Oklahoma facility because of the long wait for an abortion in that state. They hope serve about 1,500 to 2,000 clients at the Oklahoma center each year. The facility will perform abortions up to 21.6 weeks of pregnancy.

On October 4, the Oklahoma Supreme Court in an unanimous vote struck down a bill passed by the state legislature which placed a number of restrictions on abortion facilities. The state high court ruled that the measure was a violation of the state Constitution’s single-subject rule. The court decided the bill covered multiple subjects and also found that the bill placed “undue burdens on access to abortion under the guise of protecting the health of women.”

Senate Bill 642, authored by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Randy Grau (R-Edmond), passed 40-5 in the Senate and 70-5 in the House. It was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on June 4, 2015. Senate Bill 642 was passed in 2015 but did not go into effect pending a court decision. It encompassed four components regulating abortions: parental consent for minors, tissue preservation, inspection of clinics and legal liability of abortion providers. The measure would have made it a felony for a person to help a minor obtain an abortion without parental consent. It would have authorized the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) to create new protocols for statutory rape investigations and would have required abortion providers to preserve fetal tissue when an abortion was performed on someone under 14 years of age. It also would give authority to the state Board of Health to create new policies and procedures for licensing of abortion facilities.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns who operates the abortion facility in Norman. He has performed nearly half of Oklahoma’s abortions over the last few years. Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the center, said in a press release: “This law was nothing but a cynical attack on women’s health and rights by unjustly targeting their trusted healthcare providers.” The group has challenged Oklahoma abortion laws eight times, and claims a 100 percent success rate in blocking the laws.

Justice Joseph Watt wrote the opinion for the nine-member court: “Although each section relates in some way to abortion, the broad sweep of each section does not cure the single subject defects in this bill. Although defendants urge that SB 642 does not constitute logrolling, we find the provisions are so unrelated that those voting on this bill were faced with a constitutionally prohibited all-or-nothing choice to ensure the passage of favorable legislation.”

State Sen. Treat issued the following statement after the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued its ruling: “The Oklahoma Supreme Court too often wields its power to strike down good legislation because a bill doesn’t suit the court’s political ideology. The Supreme Court takes a very different view of the single subject rule when it suits a cause they support; however, the court’s application of the single subject rule becomes remarkably strict when it comes to pro-life legislation. Most Oklahomans would agree this is an important piece of legislation that covers one single subject. This bill was intended to protect minors by collecting and maintaining evidence of the rape of a child so such evidence could be used to help convict sexual predators. Reasonable minds can agree this is a very worthy goal. The single subject provision was a noble attempt to protect the process. Unfortunately, the court has perverted its intent to force its ideology on Oklahomans.”

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