Courts roll back abortion counseling laws

An Oklahoma judge rejected an ultrasound requirement, while a South Dakota court struck down parts of its abortion consent law.

By — Posted Sept. 1, 2009

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Abortion counseling requirements in Oklahoma and South Dakota will change in the aftermath of recent court rulings.

An Oklahoma state court struck down a state law that would have required physicians to perform and describe ultrasound images to pregnant women seeking an abortion. The statute also would have restricted the availability of mifepristone, also known as RU-486, unless it was provided through a physician. Other provisions included conscience protections for doctors who objected to performing abortions because of personal beliefs.

Without addressing the merits of the case against the law, Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson on Aug. 18 found the statute unconstitutional because it addressed too many different issues. She said the law violated state constitutional requirements that statutes address only a single subject. The state plans to appeal the ruling in Center for Reproductive Rights v. Edmonson to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, South Dakota Chief U.S. District Court Judge Karen E. Schreier on Aug. 20 struck down as unconstitutional portions of a state law requiring physicians to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure "terminates an existing relationship" with the fetus. But the court upheld a provision in the law stating that doctors must inform women that an abortion "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."

Both parties in the South Dakota case, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and state officials, are considering appeal options.

Abortion rights advocates who sued over the two state laws had argued they infringed on women's privacy rights and the doctor-patient relationship. Anti-abortion advocates said the statutes were intended to help women make informed medical decisions.

Neither the Oklahoma State Medical Assn. nor the South Dakota State Medical Assn. took positions on their respective state's laws. The medical societies were not involved in the lawsuits.

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