Oklahoma abortion law takes effect

OKLAHOMA CITY — The requirements of Oklahoma's new abortion law are drawing some emotional responses from patients, a clinic director said Wednesday, now that women must have an ultrasound and hear a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure can be done.

The law went into effect Tuesday, when the state Senate overrode Gov. Brad Henry's veto of that measure and one that prohibits pregnant women from seeking damages if physicians withhold information or provide inaccurate information about their pregnancy.

"It's been difficult for some of the patients," said Linda Meek, executive director of Reproductive Services of Tulsa. "We've had patients leave the ultrasound room in tears because of what they had to hear."

The clinic's owner, Nova Health Systems, and a doctor in Norman are part of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law and asking a judge to block its enforcement. A hearing is scheduled Monday in Oklahoma County District Court on the request for a temporary restraining order.

The new statute requires the person performing the ultrasound to describe the dimensions of the fetus, whether arms, legs and internal organs are visible and whether there is cardiac activity. It also requires the doctor to turn a screen depicting the ultrasound images toward the woman to see them.

Meek said no patient at the clinic had yet canceled an abortion after hearing a description of the fetus. Jennifer Mondino, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights that filed the suit, said that so far no patient at the Tulsa clinic has decided to view the images.

"All of the women chose to look away from the monitor," she said.

Meek said the clinic routinely performed ultrasounds to determine the size of a fetus. But requiring women to listen to a description can be traumatic, she said, especially for rape and incest victims and women with fetal abnormalities or whose pregnancy threatens their own life.

"That can be very painful for them," Meek said. "We just feel that doctors, and not politicians, should be practicing medicine."

That the law lacked exemptions for rape and incest victims was one reason Henry gave for his veto. He also cited constitutional issues, saying the measures were an unlawful intrusion into women's private lives.

A key supporter of the bill, Tony Lauinger, state chairman of the group Oklahomans for Life and vice president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the measures are an attempt to save the lives of unborn children and prevent psychological trauma to pregnant woman.

"The intent of the law is to provide a woman with full and complete information in advance of an irrevocable act that will take the life of an unborn child," Lauinger said. "It is hoped that with the benefit of that information some women will opt to allow their baby to continue to live."

The New York-based Center for Reproductive rights said the law is among the nation's strictest anti-abortion measures because it forces a woman to hear information that may not be relevant to her medical care. The group also believes it could interfere with the physician-patient relationship by compelling doctors to deliver unwanted speech.

The suit was filed on behalf of Nova and Larry Burns, who the abortion-rights group said provides abortions in Norman. A receptionist at Burns' office said he declined to comment.

Supporters of the second law barring damage claims for inaccurate information have said it is an attempt to keep pregnant women from discriminating against fetuses with disabilities.

The Center for Reproductive Rights said its lawsuit does not seek to block enforcement of that law.