December 14, 2016 / 12:23 AM / in 7 months

UPDATE 1-Oklahoma court strikes down abortion restriction as unconstitutional

3 Min Read

(Adds statement from Oklahoma governor)

By Jon Herskovitz

Dec 13 (Reuters) - The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a state law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital near their clinic, saying the measure "places an undue burden on a women's access to abortion."

The court said the 2014 law violates the state's constitution and if it remained on the books, it would have left the state of about 4 million people with only one abortion clinic.

Its decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a similar restriction in neighboring Texas. Abortion providers challenged the Texas law, saying the requirement it stipulated was medically unnecessary and specifically intended to shut clinics.

"We find there is no evidence to support defendants' position that this legislation protects and advances women's health," the Oklahoma court wrote.

Oklahoma Republican lawmakers who backed the law said requiring admitting privileges would ensure continuity of care if there were complications from an abortion. Abortion rights advocates said complications are rare and could be treated at any emergency room.

"I'm disappointed to see another pro-life law struck down by the courts," Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, said in a statement.

"Like many bills passed in Oklahoma, this bill was designed to protect the health and welfare of the mother along with the life of the unborn, which always should be among our society's priorities," she said.

The Oklahoma court cited the views of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, a leading group of medical professionals, which opposed the measure on the grounds that it did nothing to advance or protect women's health and the regulation was not in the best interest of patients.

Since the law on admitting privileges was passed in late 2013 in Texas, the number of abortion clinics in the state with about 27 million people, had dropped to 19 from 41, court documents show.

"Evidence matters and the evidence shows that there was no compelling public health interest for the measure," said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group whose data is used by both sides in the debate.

Lawmakers in Texas, Oklahoma and several other Republican-led states have been lining up a new series of restrictions on abortions for legislative sessions that start next year.

Abortion rights advocates believe that many Republican lawmakers feel emboldened by the upcoming presidency of Republican Donald Trump and view his administration as supporting their restrictions on the procedure. (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Sandra Maler)

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