An Oklahoma judge on Wednesday struck down the state's law requiring women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound image placed in front of them and to listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure.
District Judge Bryan Dixon ruled the statute passed by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2010 is an unconstitutional special law, and is can't be enforced because it addresses only patients, physicians and sonographers dealing with abortions without addressing other medical care.
Oklahoma is one of several states that have passed laws requiring doctors to both perform an ultrasound and provide a verbal description of the fetus before an abortion, while others are considering similar measures. The laws have been on hold in Oklahoma and North Carolina as legal challenges proceed, while Texas' recently was upheld.
Former Democratic Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry had vetoed his state's bill after it passed the Republican-controlled Legislature, warning the measure likely would lead to a "potential futile legal battle." Republicans overrode the veto with help from several Democratic anti-abortion lawmakers.
Enforcement has been blocked since May 2010 when the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of Nova Health Systems, operator of Reproductive Services of Tulsa, and a doctor who practices in Norman.
The group's lawsuit claimed the statute violated the principles of medical ethics by requiring physicians to provide unnecessary and unwanted services to patients and discounting a woman's ability to make decisions about her pregnancy.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Wednesday's ruling reflects a backlash against legislation she called hostile to women, their doctors and their rights.
"The court has resoundingly affirmed what should not be a matter of controversy at all _ that women have both a fundamental right to make their own choices about their reproductive health, and that government has no place in their decisions," Northup said.
The author of the ultrasound statute, Republican Rep. Lisa Billy of Lindsay, said doctors already perform ultrasounds before abortion and that her bill only required them to make the images available for women to view.
"It was an option if she wanted to view it," said Billy, who this year is sponsoring a measure to grant personhood status to a fertilized egg.
Tony Lauinger, chairman of the anti-abortion group Oklahomans for Life, said the group believes the case was wrongly decided in part because "abortion is different than any other medical procedure." He said the group hopes Attorney General Scott Pruitt will appeal the ruling.
Pruitt spokeswoman Diane Clay said his office had no comment on the ruling Wednesday.
Virginia recently passed a similar law that takes effect in July. Legislation also is being considered in Pennsylvania, where abortion-rights advocates have criticized Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett for saying that women who didn't want to see the fetal images could "just ... close your eyes."
The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization that supports abortion rights, said seven other states require doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion, but give women the option of listening to a description, according to the institute. Fourteen others either require doctors to offer a woman an ultrasound or offer the opportunity to view an ultrasound image if one is performed.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report.