OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's attorney general agreed Monday to temporarily block enforcement of a controversial new state law that requires pregnant women to get an ultrasound and hear a detailed description of the fetus before they get an abortion.
The Center for Reproductive Rights was set to argue for a temporary restraining order Monday, but attorneys for both sides agreed to accept the order before the court hearing, Oklahoma County District Judge Noma Gurich said. She signed the order Monday afternoon.
"We're sorry to see implementation of the law delayed," said Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life and vice president of the National Right to Life Committee. "This has been a long process and apparently it will be a little longer."
A pregnant woman should have all of the information available before she makes the irrevocable decision to terminate her pregnancy, Lauinger said, adding: "We're confident that this law is constitutional."
Attorney General Drew Edmondson agreed to the order to give his office more time to retain Teresa Collett, a University of St. Thomas Law School professor who represented the state when a similar law passed in 2008 was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights. She also is the Republican nominee in Minnesota's 4th Congressional District election this fall.
A judge ruled last year that the 2008 law was unconstitutional because it violated requirements that legislative measures deal only with one subject – but did not rule on the validity of the ultrasound provisions.
The new abortion law went into effect last week after lawmakers overrode Gov. Brad Henry's veto.
The New York-based abortion rights group has said the new law is among the strictest in the nation. The law requires doctors to use a vaginal probe, which provides a clearer picture of the fetus than a regular ultrasound, and to describe the fetus in detail, including its dimensions, whether arms, legs and internal organs are visible and whether there is cardiac activity.
The law also requires doctors to turn a screen depicting the ultrasound images toward the woman so she can view them.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has said the law forces a woman to hear information that may not be relevant to her medical care and could interfere with the physician-patient relationship by compelling doctors to deliver unwanted speech.
Collett, a native of Norman, Okla., said Monday that nothing in Oklahoma's abortion statute is inconsistent with standard medical practice.
"It would be remarkable if a women would undergo a medical procedure and a doctor would not have an obligation to describe the procedure and the results of that procedure to the patient," Collett said.
She said state lawmakers required abortion providers to describe the ultrasound's images because of some doctors' "unusual failure" to pass along the information to pregnant women.
The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of Nova Health Systems, operator of Reproductive Services of Tulsa, and Dr. Larry Burns, who the group said provides abortions in Norman.
Officials at Reproductive Services have said the law had drawn emotional responses from patients, some leaving in tears from the room where ultrasound procedures are performed because of what they had to hear.