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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Okla. judge extends block on controversial abortion law

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma County judge Friday extended a temporary restraining order that blocks enforcement of a controversial abortion law that is being challenged on grounds that it violates the state constitution.

District Judge Daniel Owens was scheduled to rule on a temporary injunction requested by the plaintiffs, but instead said the restraining order would remain in force until he announces his decision in the case. A hearing is set for Feb. 19.

House Bill 1595, which was to have gone into effect Nov. 1, requires doctors to report personal information about women who seek abortions, and also requires that information to be posted on a public Web site. It also bars abortions based on the gender of the fetus, redefines several abortion-related terms and creates new reporting responsibilities for several state agencies.

The state attorney general's office, which is defending the law, argued that delaying enactment could result in harm to individuals, particularly under a portion of the measure that bars women from obtaining abortions based on the gender of the fetus.

"We would prefer that the law go into effect as soon as possible," assistant Attorney General Teresa Collett said.

Jennifer Mondino, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging the law, dismissed that argument.

"That is not an issue in this lawsuit," Mondino said after the hearing.

Owens is the third judge to preside over the lawsuit after two female judges recused themselves.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and two Oklahoma women sued the state in September, arguing that House Bill 1595 violates the single-subject rule of the Oklahoma constitution, which requires one piece of legislation to deal with only one issue.

The bill's author, Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, and other supporters have said the measure deals only with abortion. Sullivan couldn't be reached for comment Friday night.

Owens may have hinted how he will rule.

"I'm a strong believer in the legislative process, but I'm a stronger believer in the constitution of the state of Oklahoma," he said.

Wanda Jo Stapleton, one of the plaintiffs, said she was encouraged by the judge's comments.

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