By Tim Talley
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — A coalition of reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit Thursday to block enforcement of an Oklahoma law that restricts access to the morning-after emergency contraception pill.
The lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County District Court alleges the law, approved by the Legislature in May and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 29, is unconstitutional and discriminates against women by imposing restrictions on a form of contraception used only by women. It says the law is the only one of its kind in the nation.
The law, which received bipartisan support in the House and Senate, primarily deals with regulations regarding health insurance benefit forms. But a separate section requires women 17 and older to show identification to a pharmacist to obtain the Plan B One-Step pill and generic emergency contraceptives.
It also requires women under 17 to have a prescription to obtain them.
Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice which filed the lawsuit, said the federal government approved the morning-after pill for unrestricted, over-the-counter sales and that women in Oklahoma deserve the same access as women in every other state. The drug was approved in June and became available in pharmacies and grocery stores on Aug. 1.
“It has taken over a decade for women in this country to see emergency contraception sold on the shelves without restriction, and Oklahoma women shouldn’t have to wait even longer,” Skeeters said.
The emergency contraceptive is designed to prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation or fertilization and is not capable of terminating an existing pregnancy.
It is generally not effective more than 72 hours after sex.
The law’s author, Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, said it was passed in response to the government’s decision to allow unrestricted access to the drug by adults and teens. Schwartz accused the government of overreaching its authority and said the statute was intended to maintain the status quo in the state.
“I’m kind of taken aback,” Schwartz said after learning of the lawsuit.
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges the law violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s single-subject rule restricting laws to just one issue. Schwartz said both sections of the law deal with drugs that are sold by pharmacies.
The lawsuit was filed against the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy and its six members by the coalition and Jo Ann Mangili, of Mounds, the mother of a 15-year-old girl. It seeks a temporary restraining order and injunction against enforcement of the measure, which is scheduled to take effect Aug. 22.
District Judge Lisa Davis set an Aug. 19 hearing in the case.
The lawsuit is the latest challenge to anti-abortion and related legislation adopted by the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice and Mangili.
In December, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down laws challenged by the group that required women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound image placed in front of them while they hear a description of the fetus and that banned off-label use of certain abortion-inducing drugs.
Now, Oklahoma politicians are imposing barriers to safe and effective birth control measures, said Bebe Anderson, director of the U.S. legal program for the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“The opponents of women’s rights in the Oklahoma Legislature are like the worst kind of broken record, repeating their attempts to deny Oklahoma women essential reproductive health care again and again and again,” Anderson said.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said his office will review the complaint and “respond accordingly.”
“This is yet another attempt by an out-of-state group and its affiliates to challenge Oklahoma’s legitimate interest in enacting safeguards for the health and safety of Oklahoma women and, in this case, children,” Pruitt said.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Pruitt’s request that it review the state Supreme Court’s decision regarding the abortion-inducing drugs law, which mandated that doctors only prescribe abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486 as authorized by directions spelled out on a government-approved label.