Federal judge questions new abortion law

Saturday, May 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The Oklahoma Legislature could have saved time and trouble by addressing constitutional questions in the state's new parental notification abortion law, a federal judge says.

U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan did not rule on a lawsuit during a summary judgment hearing on Friday. But Eagan wondered aloud why the state did not draft the law to comply with established U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Nova Health Systems Inc., the parent group of Tulsa's Reproductive Services & Adoption Affiliates, filed the lawsuit June 8 to keep state officials from enforcing the law, which had been enacted four days earlier.

The challenged provision makes those who perform abortions on minors without parental consent liable for the cost of any subsequent related medical treatment for the minor.

Plaintiff's attorney Bebe Anderson of the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy told the court that the Oklahoma law lacks allowances for medical emergencies and a judicial bypass provision.

Such a provision allows judges to permit abortions without parental consent for minors who are deemed mature enough to decide on their own or in cases when the court believes that telling a parent wouldn't be in a girl's best interest.

Anderson also claimed that the law makes no allowance for emancipated minors. As written, an emancipated minor in Oklahoma could undergo any sort of medical procedure without parental consent _ except abortion, she said.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren, Oklahoma State University President James Halligan and Terry Cline, director of the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services are among the defendants in the case.

A judge ruled in October that they are not immune from the lawsuit because they have the authority to enforce the challenged statute.

The defense argued that, in a sense, the new law should not even be labeled a ``parental notification'' law since it merely deals with assigning later, related medical costs.

But Eagan said the statute appeared to attempt make an ``end run'' around the law by saying, ``You can go ahead and provide the abortion, and we'll get you at the end.''

The complaint in the case says the statute provides no indication of whether the consent of one parent is enough, does not specify exactly what the parents must be told and makes it unclear whether parental knowledge without consent would be sufficient to avoid liability.

It also asserts that the law provides no guidance for abortion providers to sufficiently confirm apparent ``parental consent or knowledge.''

According to the complaint, 8 percent of the 7,182 abortions performed in Oklahoma in 2000 were on patients younger than 18.