OKLAHOMA CITY — A judge struck down an Oklahoma law Monday that required doctors to follow label instructions when prescribing abortion-inducing drugs, finding the rule is unconstitutional because it doesn't apply to other kinds of medication.
District Judge Patricia Parrish invalidated the law, which the Republican-controlled Legislature approved and Gov. Mary Fallin signed last year. It had prohibited off-label uses of abortion-inducing drugs by requiring doctors to administer them only in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocols.
A lawsuit argued the law placed unconstitutional restrictions on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy and interfered with doctors' discretion. Opponents contend lower dosages can make the abortion-inducing drugs more effective later in a pregnancy.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of Reproductive Services, a nonprofit reproductive health care facility in Tulsa, and the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice.
Autumn Katz, senior staff attorney for the New York-based abortion-rights group, argued that the law unconstitutionally singled out abortion-inducing drugs for special restrictions and improperly delegated legislative authority to the FDA. Katz also said the law interfered with a doctors' discretion to treat their patients.
Katz said restricting the off-label use of the drugs did not serve a valid state interest and that about 2 million women have taken the drugs to induce abortions early in their pregnancies.
But Deputy Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani argued that the Legislature was concerned about the health and safety of women when it adopted the statute. He said at least six women have died in the U.S. after being administered the drugs, justifying the state's law requiring adherence to the FDA protocol.
"This particular method has safer alternatives," Mansinghani said.
Oklahoma is among six states — along with Arizona, Arkansas, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas — that have passed laws to restrict medical abortions by limiting or banning off-label uses of drugs, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which advocates sexual and reproductive health and rights. Enforcement of the laws in Oklahoma and Arizona had been temporarily blocked pending the outcome of legal challenges.
Among the drugs covered by the laws is mifepristone, originally known as RU-486. The FDA approved its use in 2000 through the first seven weeks of pregnancy. It is prescribed along with a second drug, misoprostol.
But since FDA approval, medical researchers and clinical trials have shown that mifepristone is effective in much smaller doses and for two weeks longer in a pregnancy. Katz argued that the Oklahoma law forced physicians to treat women seeking medical abortions according to an outdated method that is less safe, less effective and more expensive than the method doctors currently use.
In striking down the law, Parrish said she was bound by a decision handed down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2012. That decision upheld a lower court ruling that invalidated a law passed in 2011 that effectively banned all drug-induced abortions in the state.
Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office, said in an email that the office will appeal the decision.
"As the attorney general has maintained throughout the course of litigation, the Legislature was within its constitutional authority to take steps to prevent off-label uses of abortion drugs in order to protect the health and safety of Oklahoma women," Cooper said.