The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC (AP)
Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court won't consider Oklahoma's appeal seeking to reinstate its law banning medical abortions, such as those performed with the drug RU-486.
The decision comes after Oklahoma's Supreme Court said the law, which would restrict the use of several abortion-inducing drugs to their labels, effectively bans all medical abortions.
That apparently was enough for the justices to leave alone the lower court decision striking down the law. But similar controversies in other states, including neighboring Texas, make it possible another case will reach the high court eventually.
A federal appeals court ruled last week that a Texas anti-abortion law banning most medical abortions and requiring doctors who provide abortions to get local hospital admitting privileges could take effect, even while the state challenges a district court judge's ruling against the hospital provision. That means many doctors in Texas are blocked from prescribing medical abortions in the first seven weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion rights proponents asked the Supreme Court Monday to block the provision requiring hospital privileges while the legal battle continues. Justice Antonin Scalia demanded a response from the state by Nov. 12.
The prospect of a Supreme Court case on abortion had energized both sides in the debate. The Oklahoma case on RU-486 and two other drugs could have been the most important abortion case since 1992, when the justices upheld the right to abortion but approved several state restrictions. A later decision striking down so-called "partial-birth" abortions only affected a small number performed much later in pregnancy.
Other state abortion laws that could reach the high court before too long include those banning abortions after 20 weeks in Arizona and Idaho, as well as restrictions on abortion clinics and requirements that ultrasound tests be performed first.
The justices will hear one related case in January - a challenge by abortion opponents to a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics.
The stricken Oklahoma law that justices refused to consider is similar to others in states that have sought to further restrict the right to abortion. It allows three abortion-related drugs to be used only in the ways their FDA-approved labels specify. Doctors, however, routinely follow other protocols that combine drugs and enable patients to take them at home.
In addition to the Texas law, which makes exceptions for the life and health of the mother, a similar ban on off-label uses for abortion-inducing drugs has been upheld in Ohio.