MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 15, 2014

State Senate approves limit on abortion drug


— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to further restrict the use of abortion-inducing drugs in Oklahoma in a bill written in direct response to a recent state Supreme Court decision.

The Senate voted 37-5 for the bill that now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin, who previously signed a similar measure.

The bill would prohibit off-label uses of certain abortion-inducing drugs by requiring doctors to administer the drugs only in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol. A similar bill was approved by the Legislature and signed in 2011, but that measure was declared unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled that it effectively banned all drug-induced abortions in the state.

Sen. Greg Treat, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said it was specifically drafted to address the concerns raised by the court that lawmakers did not clearly state their intent.

"We delineated our intent very clearly in this bill now," said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

The bill specifically states the Legislature's intent is not to ban the use of the drug misoprostol in chemical abortions, or prevent the off-label use of drugs for the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, a potentially life-threatening situation when a fertilized egg develops outside of a woman's womb.

Sen. Connie Johnson, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, attempted to amend the bill to specifically prohibit the off-label use of drugs for executions, but the amendment was quickly tabled. Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, said it was hypocritical for the state to restrict the off-label use of abortion drugs, while at the same allowing off-label uses of drugs to execute condemned inmates.

Johnson also criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature for its continued efforts to restrict abortion, a procedure that has been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The true intent of this bill, in my opinion, is to deny women and their physicians the freedom to make personal health decisions," Johnson said. "Let's stop putting our noses in places where doctors and women are the only people who should be having some input."

Among the drugs covered in the bill is mifepristone, originally known as RU-486. In 2001, the FDA approved the use of mifepristone through the first seven weeks of pregnancy. It is prescribed along with a second drug, misoprostol.

Since the FDA approval, medical researchers and clinical trials have shown that mifepristone is effective in much smaller doses and for two weeks longer in a pregnancy, the opponents of Oklahoma's law argued.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court noted that such off-label uses of drugs are standard medical practice.

More than 1.4 million women have taken the drugs to induce abortions in the United States. Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma argued that at least eight women have died in the U.S., justifying its law requiring adherence to the FDA protocol.