Oklahoma Supreme Court rules state constitution allows for abortions in life-threatening pregnancies

Oklahoma's Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a law criminalizing abortion, ruling that the state constitution protects the right to abortions in life-threatening situations.

The state constitution includes "an inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to save her life," the court ruled. The court also ruled that doctors are able to use their own medical judgment to determine whether to provide an abortion if a patient's life is at risk.

The court struck down one law passed by the state legislature to criminalize abortions, but left a ban on elective abortions in place, taking no position on the broader question of whether there is a right to elective abortions "made outside of preserving the life of the pregnant woman."

This means most Oklahomans will continue to not have access to abortion care.

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Oklahoma reproductive rights groups challenge abortion ban

The case is part of a series of lawsuits filed by a group of abortion providers and reproductive rights groups, led by Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. These lawsuits challenge Oklahoma's abortion bans, claiming they violate the state constitution's guarantee of due process, equal protection, personal autonomy and bodily integrity, and other rights, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit public policy institute.

Abortion rights advocates decried the court's decision not to rule on whether the state constitution also protects the right to abortion outside of life-threatening circumstances.

"Oklahomans deserve better," Tamya Cox-Touré, co-chair of Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said in a statement. "Our state Supreme Court’s decision leaves abortion care out of reach for many, especially those who already face systemic barriers to medical care."

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Challenges to state abortion bans nationwide

Nationwide, dozens of lawsuits have been filed under state constitutions and statutes to challenge abortion bans. As of March 14, 37 cases have been filed in 21 states, according to a tracker by the Brennan Center.

Many of these challenges, including in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming, center around interpretations of state constitutional rights, including rights to privacy and equal protection.

In January, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld that its state constitution protects the right to an abortion, striking down a six-week abortion ban. Meanwhile, the Idaho Supreme Court made the opposite decision on the same day, ruling the Idaho state constitution does not enshrine abortion as a fundamental right.

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Contact Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oklahoma abortion rights: Court protects right to life-saving abortion