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Court sends abortion drug case back to Okla. court

Updated at: 06/27/2013 7:35 PM
By SEAN MURPHY

(AP) OKLAHOMA CITY - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday asked for additional information about an Oklahoma law that bans certain abortion-inducing drugs, a move that gave supporters new hope the justices would ultimately determine the state’s top court went too far by striking down the law.

The law passed in 2011 required doctors to follow strict guidelines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prohibited off-label uses of certain abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486. Such moves include changing a recommended dosage or prescribing it for different symptoms than the drug was initially approved for. The law also required doctors to examine women before prescribing the drugs, document certain medical conditions and schedule follow-up appointments.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights has sued to stop the law, arguing that the restrictions would leave women no choice but to undergo invasive surgeries to end their pregnancies. Judges have halted its enforcement, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in December that the anti-abortion law was "facially unconstitutional" and that judges were right to prevent its enforcement.

But the federal justices ordered the Oklahoma Supreme Court to answer two questions about the law before they consider an appeal form the Oklahoma attorney general.

The Supreme Court wants to know if the Oklahoma law "prohibits the use of misoprostol to induce abortions, including the use of misoprostol in conjunction with mifepristone according to a protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration." The high court also wants to know if the law stops "the use of methotrexate to treat ectopic pregnancies," which is when an embryo implants somewhere outside of the uterus.

Mifepristone is also known as Mifeprex or RU-486, according to court papers.

"This is an extraordinary decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to review the actions of Oklahoma’s Supreme Court, which has consistently misapplied federal law to strike down Oklahoma abortion laws," Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement. "This law does not ban the use of abortion-inducing drugs, but seeks to protect women from harmful off-label uses."

Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, the author of the bill, said the high court’s inquiry "confirms my concern all along that the Oklahoma Supreme Court sidestepped the specific issues in this case and the purpose of the bill, which is to protect the health and safety of Oklahoma patients."

The two sides arguing over the law disagree in court papers to the answer to those questions, so "further proceedings in this case are reserved pending receipt of a response from the Supreme Court of Oklahoma," the high court said in its statement.

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The case is Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, 12-1094.

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)