Oklahoma Supreme Court strikes down restrictive abortion law

Oct 4 (Reuters) - Oklahoma's highest court on Tuesday struck down a law imposing restrictions on abortion providers, including a requirement that they take samples of fetal tissue from patients younger than 14 and preserve them for state investigators.

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The law also set new criminal penalties for providers who violate abortion-related statutes as well as individuals who help a minor evade the requirement to obtain parental consent. In addition, the bill created a new, stricter inspection system for abortion clinics.

Legislators had said the fetal tissue section was aimed at capturing child rapists and that the law would protect women's health. But the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the law in court, said it unfairly targeted facilities that perform abortions.

In a unanimous opinion, the nine-member Oklahoma Supreme Court found the law violated the state constitution's requirement that each legislative bill must address only "one subject."

The rule, the court said, is designed to prevent legislators from including provisions that would not normally pass in otherwise popular bills. The state unsuccessfully asserted that each part of the law addressed a single subject: women's reproductive health.

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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A demonstrator wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to decide today whether a Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to abortion in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A woman wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A protester holds up a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the morning the court takes up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy, in Washington March 2, 2016. Picture taken March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-life activist, Ryan Orr, 17, of Manassas, Va, waits holds a silent vigil as he waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activist, Jaimie Ermak, 24, from Washington, D.C., waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Pro-choice and pro-life protesters clash in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, center, and other pro-life protesters clash with pro-choice protesters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning, June 20, 2016. The court is expected to hand down their decision on a Texas law which requires clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and forces doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: A pro-life protester holds a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
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"We reject defendants' arguments and find this legislation violates the single subject rule as each of these sections is so unrelated and misleading that a legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice," Justice Joseph Watt wrote for the court.

In a concurring opinion, four judges said they also would have struck down the law as an unconstitutional burden on a woman's right to have an abortion.

Lincoln Ferguson, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, called the decision "disappointing."

"This law would have given law enforcement the ability to more easily prosecute sexual assaults of children that are discovered when a child under 14 has an abortion," he said.

"The Attorney General's Office remains committed to defending laws aimed at protecting the safety and well-being of Oklahoma women."

In a statement, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said the law was "nothing but a cynical attack on women's health and rights by unjustly targeting their trusted health care providers."

Oklahoma's Republican-dominated government has joined several socially conservative states in enacting abortion restrictions in recent years, drawing court challenges.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on facilities that perform abortions. A similar law is on hold in Oklahoma while the state Supreme Court considers its legality. (Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Alan Crosby)

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