Abortion advocates target pregnancy centers and state pro-life group

Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights, a group supportive of abortion, have undertaken an unusual and highly aggressive legal strategy in attacking Oklahomans for Life for the latter group’s role advocating a pro-life bill. 

The group is also aiming to pull into its legal case — brought against a 2010 law — state pregnancy centers that offer sonograms to women. A hearing on the matter is slated for tomorrow morning at the Oklahoma County courthouse. 

In actions linked to the center’s efforts to strike down a law allowing ultrasounds before pregnant women make final decisions about abortion, the national organization is seeking to force the Tulsa-based pro-life group to disclose donors, internal communications, emails and mailing lists. 

An aggressive subpoena crafted by the national center’s attorney would include sanctions if Oklahomans for Life withheld the information demanded. Kevin Calvey, a former state legislator acting as pro bono counsel for pregnancy centers that could also be drawn into the case, told CapitolBeatOK the litigation is “clearly designed to harass” pro-life activists and their allies, as well as the non-profit local centers that serve women. 

While Oklahomans for Life was an initial target for the national group’s aggressive posture, a total of 16 pregnancy centers that perform sonograms are also targets in the new offshoot to the original litigation. Calvey said Oklahomans for Life should be protected because the group objected to the suit. As for the pregnancy centers, they are not political groups. 

Calvey is asking Oklahoma County Judge Bryan Dixon for a protective order to protect the local groups’ freedom of association rights, and to restrain the reach of litigation aimed at impacting the sonographers at the local pregnancy centers.

Calvey characterized the subpoena as “outrageously invasive.” As for Oklahomans for Life, Calvey contended the argument seems of the national group seems to be that lobbying or advocacy for legislation should make a group subject to litigation when that law is challenged. Such an approach, he said, would “create a morass in the courts.”

Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans For Life, said that his group is targeted because “We simply advocated in favor of pro-life laws. We worked for the enactment of the Ultrasound law that provides a woman the chance to see her unborn child as part of the informed-consent process prior to an abortion.

“According to the abortion industry lawyers, our advocacy on behalf of unborn children is enough for them to force Oklahomans For Life, under penalty of contempt of court, to divulge thousands of documents of private information, including our email list.”

As for the underlying law, then-Governor Brad Henry vetoed the measure when it worked its way through the Legislature in spring 2010, but both the House and Senate mustered bipartisan majorities that easily overrode the veto.
Issuing that veto, Henry said the bill “represents an unconstitutional attempt by the Oklahoma Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of its citizens. State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma. To do so amounts to an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.” 
In filings last year challenging the ultrasound law, Nova Health Systems, which operations an abortion center in Tulsa, and Dr. Larry Burns of Norman, an abortion provider, asserted the ultrasound measure was unconstitutionally vague, and violative of the rights of women and of the speech rights of physicians. Further, Nova Health Systems contends the law “impermissibly burdens the fundamental rights of plaintiffs’ patients to terminate a pregnancy and avoid unwanted speech in a private setting.”

Last July, Judge Noma Gurich, now a member of the state Supreme Court, blocked enforcement of the ultrasound law until legal issues are resolved. 

At that time, state Rep. Lisa Billy of Lindsay, a co-author of the law, defended the measure while predicting it would, eventually, be upheld: “Abortion providers have acknowledged in legal filings that they routinely perform an ultrasound prior to an abortion; this law merely provides women the opportunity to view the ultrasound if they wish, and hear a description of it.

“Opponents of this law contradict themselves by arguing that a woman is capable of choosing to have an abortion, but not emotionally capable of dealing with all relevant medical information. That is, quite simply, an outdated and sexist attitude straight from the horse-and-buggy era.”