WASHINGTON — Oklahoma's high court set the stage Tuesday for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether states may restrict doctors from prescribing the two drugs that are commonly used by women who seek an abortion in the first weeks of their pregnancy.
The legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas and several other states have adopted laws that require doctors to follow the Food and Drug Administration's protocols for the use of "any abortion-inducing drug." These laws forbid doctors to prescribe medications for "off-label use."
Sponsors of the laws said they want to protect the health of women. But medical experts and supporters of abortion rights said the laws would effectively ban medication abortions because the FDA protocol is outdated and conflicts with medical practice.
Only one drug — mifepristone or RU-486 — was approved by the FDA in 2000 for inducing early abortions. In the past decade, however, physicians have regularly prescribed a second drug — misoprostol — to complete these abortions through nine weeks of a pregnancy. They also have prescribed RU-486 in much lower dosages.
When the doctors sued to challenge the state law, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional last year. The state's attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued the state judges had invalidated a reasonable law designed to regulate the safe practice of medicine.
In June, the justices took an unusual step. They agreed to take the Oklahoma case, but first asked the Oklahoma court to clarify whether the state law "prohibits the use of misoprostol in conjunction with mifepristone."
In Tuesday's opinion, the Oklahoma court said the state law, as written, does indeed prohibit the use of the second drug. It "effectively bans all medication abortions," the state court declared.