Friday, October 4, 2013

Is Oklahoma Home to the Next Abortion Rights Challenge?

Oklahoma might just be home to the next big case to expand or restrict access to abortion care. A 2011 law restricting drug induced abortions has been challenged and could be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June the US Supreme Court agreed to review an Oklahoma law regulating the use of abortion inducing drugs and the law remains up for review currently. Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, but without a formal explanation the law required further scrutiny. The drugs, known as Mifeprex and Misoprostol, are used to terminate pregnancies in the first three months by inducing miscarriage and they have shown to be safe. The Oklahoma legislature signed regulations of this procedure into law in 2011 but the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (OCRJ) argues that the law creates “undue burden” on women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

This case is tricky because the law in question appears reasonable. The Oklahoma law simply states that doctors must strictly abide by FDA protocol for Mifeprex approved in 2000. Taken at face value the law appears to protect women’s health, but according to many medical doctors it does just the opposite.

FDA labeling from 2000 requires that Mifeprex be prescribed in 600 mg doses in the presence of a doctor. Today, 13 years after the FDA approval, doctors have a very different idea of how the early term abortion educing drug can and should be used. Doctors now understand that the drug works effectively and safely in 200 mg doses. As the law stands, doctors are required to prescribe patients three times the needed dosage, an unnecessarily excessive amount. These regulations create risk for women seeking early term, non-surgical abortions and thusly discourage doctors from prescribing the risky dose.

Furthermore doctors understand that patents can take the second dose (misoprostol) at home. The FDA label requires women to visit their doctor a minimum of three times (one visit for each dose and a follow up), which can prove difficult to low income women or those who live far away from Oklahoma’s few abortion care providers. FDA protocol bans doctors from prescribing the drug after 49 days of gestation, however many doctors agree that the drug is safely and effectively administered within 63 days of gestation.

These regulations are cleverly masked as safety standards. Instead they actually put women at more medical risk and intentionally limit access to safe, legal abortion procedures. The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in conjunction with the Center for Reproductive Rights, has taken the Oklahoma law to the Supreme Court on the grounds that it creates unconstitutional barriers to access. The ‘war on choice’ has aimed to restrict women’s basic human right to control their own bodies and these restrictions are nothing more than a twist on old tactics of limiting abortion access. This case could finally grant some clarity on the legality underhanded legislation aiming to stop women who chose abortion from practicing their right to do so.