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story.lead_photo.caption Terry Cline (left), Oklahoma commissioner of health, and Martha Burger, president of the Oklahoma Board of Health, confer Tuesday in Oklahoma City on a state abortion-reduction plan to post signs in public restrooms to direct pregnant women where to get services. - Photo by AP / SUE OGROCKI

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a law requiring abortion clinics to have doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, saying efforts to portray the measure as protecting women's health are a "guise."

In Ohio, meanwhile, Republican Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday signed a 20-week abortion ban while vetoing stricter provisions in a separate measure that would have barred the procedure at the first detectable fetal heartbeat.

The Oklahoma law voided by the state's highest court would require a doctor with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles be present for any abortion. The court found it violates both the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down a similar provision in Texas.

"Under the guise of the protection of women's health," Oklahoma Justice Joseph Watt wrote, "[the law] creates an undue burden on a woman's access to abortion, violating protected rights under our federal Constitution," referring specifically to the Texas case.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed the measure, Senate Bill 1848, into law in 2014, but courts had blocked it from taking effect. Tuesday's ruling overturns a lower court's decision in February that upheld the law.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns, a Norman physician who performs nearly half of Oklahoma's abortions. Burns has said he applied for admitting privileges at hospitals in the Oklahoma City area but was turned down.

At the time, the only other clinic in the state that performed abortions was in Tulsa. However, the Trust Women South Wind Women's Center opened in south Oklahoma City in September and Planned Parenthood opened in the Oklahoma City suburb of Warr Acres in November.

"Today's decision is a victory for Oklahoma women and another rebuke to politicians pushing underhanded laws that attack a woman's constitutionally guaranteed right to safe, legal abortion," Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment but previously has said that the bill was passed to protect the health and safety of Oklahoma women.

The court also found that the law violates the Oklahoma Constitution's ban on measures containing more than one subject, a practice known as logrolling. The law included "12 separate and unrelated subsections," the court said.

"The sections in SB 1848 are so unrelated and misleading that a legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice," according to the ruling.

The court's ruling came the same day that the Oklahoma Board of Health approved new requirements for hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs inside public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce abortions in the state. The provision mandating the signs was tucked into a measure the Legislature passed this year that requires the state to develop informational material "for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society."

Businesses and other organizations estimate they will have to pay $2.3 million to put up the signs because the Legislature approved no funding for them. The Legislature and the governor must ratify the board's rules for the signs before they are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, board attorney Donald Maisch said.

In Ohio, the so-called heartbeat bill would have prohibited most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy -- or before many women know they are pregnant. Its provisions cleared the Republican-led Legislature during a lame-duck flurry last week after being tucked into separate legislation.

Kasich, an abortion-rights opponent, chose instead to sign off on a 20-week ban similar to those now in effect in 15 states and blocked from enforcement in two others. The measures are based on the assertion that fetuses can feel pain then, which opponents characterize as scientifically unsound. Ohio lawmakers rejected a Democratic amendment that would have added exceptions for rape and incest.

The 20-week ban "is the best, most legally sound and sustainable approach to protecting the sanctity of human life," Kasich said.

Kasich said the heartbeat provision would have been struck down based on other federal court rulings. Enacting the law would also invite challenges to current Ohio abortion prohibitions and would mean costly litigation.

"The state of Ohio will be the losing party in that lawsuit and, as the losing party, the state of Ohio will be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover the legal fees for the pro-choice activists' lawyers," Kasich said.

"Therefore, this veto is in the public interest," the governor said.

Ohio lawmakers still have the option to override Kasich's veto. Doing so would require a three-fifths majority of each chamber.

Information for this article was contributed by Tim Talley, Julie Carr Smyth, David Crary and Sean Murphy of The Associated Press.

A Section on 12/14/2016

Print Headline: Oklahoma abortion law tossed

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