- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An Oklahoma County judge said Thursday he needs more evidence to answer questions about a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of a law requiring abortion providers to have a physician with local hospital admitting privileges on-site when abortions are performed.

District Judge Don Andrews scheduled a February hearing to collect evidence in the lawsuit filed on behalf of an Oklahoma abortion provider by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. The lawsuit alleges the law is unconstitutional and should not be enforced.

“I’ve come up with a few pages of questions,” Andrews told attorneys in the case before scheduling the evidentiary hearing. Andrews said he had read lengthy legal briefs and arguments filed by the reproductive-rights group and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the law, and that they raised unanswered questions.

“I would prefer to have as much information … before I make a ruling,” the judge said.

The lawsuit was filed in October on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns of Norman, who performs nearly half of Oklahoma’s abortions. Burns has said he’s applied for admitting privileges at hospitals in the Oklahoma City area but had yet to get approval from any of the facilities.

The law was temporarily blocked by the state Supreme Court shortly after it went into effect in November. The reproductive-rights group said Burns would likely have to close his practice if the law went into effect.

Burns attended Thursday’s hearing and left the courtroom without comment. He was accompanied by advocates with the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, some of whom wore pink T-shirts with the words “Trust Women” stenciled on the front.

An attorney for Burns, Genevieve Scott, said the judge’s insistence on gathering evidence indicates he is taking the group’s concerns about the impact of the law seriously.

“He has very specific questions,” Scott said. She said Burns’ practice will continue while the case is pending.

Aaron Cooper, spokesman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said Pruitt appreciates the judge’s “thoughtful consideration” of the law that Cooper said is designed to protect Oklahoma women.

But Scott said the Oklahoma law and similar ant-abortion measures in other states are designed to force abortion providers to close. Attorneys for the group have said fewer than 1 percent of women who have abortions experience complications and the requirement does nothing to advance a woman’s health.

“These are really sham laws. They have nothing to do with a woman’s health and safety,” she said.

Two of the hospitals that have denied admitting privileges to Burns turned him down because he could not commit to admitting at least six patients a year, according to the organization.

Among other things, Burns’ lawsuit alleges the law contains multiple subjects in spite of the state constitution’s requirement that legislation be confined to a single subject. The lawsuit also alleges the law unconstitutionally singles out abortion providers for the admitting privileges requirement when other physicians who perform riskier out-patient procedures do not have to comply.


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