Supreme Court Lets Bar On Oklahoma Law Mandating Pre-Abortion Ultrasounds Stand


Today, the Supreme Court declined to accept a case in which the State of Oklahoma appealed a lower court ruling striking down a law that, among other things, mandated ultrasounds before all abortions:

In other action at the court on Tuesday, the justices declined to hear an appeal from a decision striking down an Oklahoma abortion law that required women to have an ultrasound image placed in front of them and to listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure.

The ultrasound typically required a vaginal probe and had to be performed even if women objected. Some doctors said the requirement that they recite the description was a violation of medical ethics.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the law in December, saying it conflicted with a 1992 United States Supreme Court decision protecting the constitutional right to abortion. In their brief to the justices, state officials said the law was consistent with the decision, which upheld part of a Pennsylvania law calling for informed consent from women seeking abortions.

In urging the court not to hear the case, Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems, No. 12-1170, operators of Oklahoma abortion clinics said the law was “rare if not unique.”

“This is no garden-variety ‘informed consent’ law,” their brief said. “It does not merely make information available to a woman who wishes to terminate her pregnancy; it compels women to undergo an invasive medical examination and listen to a state-scripted narrative even if they object.”

As is their custom, the justices gave no reasons for their decision not to hear the case. Last week, the court dismissed an appeal from a decision striking down another Oklahoma law, an effort to limit medicinal abortions.

Since it requires the agreement of at least four Justices to accept a case, it’s hard to necessarily draw any conclusions from developments like this, and it’s probably safe not to. Nonetheless, it does seem as though the Court is doing its best to avoid accept cases related to the topic of abortion at this time. This could be a sign that they’d rather not walk along that particular political third rail, or that they simply wish to leave the issue to the Courts of Appeal for now. Nonetheless, this is a potentially interesting development in light of other anti-abortion legislation currently making its way through the Federal Courts.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    Apart from anything else, isn’t forcing women to undergo a vaginal probe a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

  2. anjin-san says:

    Thank God conservatives are keeping the government out of people’s lives…

  3. KM says:

    Setting aside the abortion aspect, this is about the government mandating a medically unnecessary, deliberate invasive medical procedure against the patients’ will and enshrining that into law. That thought should give anyone pause. If the sonogram must be done, there are other ways but no – it had to be sticking a foreign object up a vagina without a women’s consent. What gives them the right to make that judgement on someone who is performing a legal activity they just aren’t fond of?

    These things are precedent, whether you like it or not. The principle that the government has the right to force a procedure on you when you’ve committed no crime has actually written into law now and can be cited should the Man chose to go further. There was another article on OTB recently about the police getting a warrant for a colonoscopy for a man “suspected” of carrying drugs. They actually got a doctor to do it! When you declare that the patient doesn’t have the right to refuse and that the doctor must preform a procedure at the bureaucracy’s discretion instead of his own medical decisions, you start setting up scenarios that get progressively darker.

    Regardless of your opinions on abortion, I think we can all agree no level of government has the right (nor should) to shove something up any orifice of a legally innocent person. After all, tomorrow it could be you for running a stop sign…..

  4. grumpy realist says:

    @KM: Yes, but men think that it will never happen to them, y’know. Raping women with instruments is SOP.

    God do I wish someone would invent the uterine replicator… would blow the hypocrisy of the forced-pregnancy group wide open and make it damned obvious the only thing they’re worried about in controlling women’s sexual behavior.

  5. KM says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Or a safe transplant process. But then we would need to have a hell of a lot of volunteers and that will not happen. We all know that. Gonna have to go mechanical.

    I’ve always wondered why that wasn’t a priority for some religious researchers. It wouldn’t just prevent some abortions but possibly miscarriages too if you were able to get the process to work in the earliest weeks. The few times I’ve tentatively mentioned this as a scientific alternative to look into I’ve been shut down HARD – it seems not only is it “playing God” but circumvents His Will somehow that will lead to a slippery slope of mothers not caring for children anymore if they come out of machines. My reply is it wouldn’t create life but rather preserve it – a seemingly noble goal that they are already actively pursuing (and if you can’t love your child if it came out of a mechanical womb instead of your own you probably shouldn’t have that child in the first place).

    So what exactly is their complaint other then they feel the woman should have to carry? Isn’t this God’s Work in the form of “saving a life”? Why isn’t anyone working on that (their rationale)?

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Well, it gets even more amusing if you really, really do insist that zygote == baby. Considering that by all estimates 40%-60% of zygotes fail to implant or after implanting, fail to remain implanted….any medication whatsoever that would cut down on that percentage would be A Good Thing and Saving Lives, right? Even if it did end up with birth defects of all of the fetuses, right? Because after all, Life >> birth defects, right? So all women who are pregnant or could be pregnant should be forced to ingest any medication that would cut down on miscarriages, even if it results in a deformed or retarded child, right?

    I wonder if that’s what happens with thalidomide….not so much a mutagen as interrupting signals to the body that would allow the miscarriage of a deformed zygote.

  7. JohnMcC says:

    You have stumbled onto a major ‘family value’, my friend Mr/Ms Kilometer. As another example of the exalted role of uterine supremacy, let me point you to the remark by Judge Nina Pillard, recently honored by being rejected by the US Senate because she only got 56 votes — and so of course failed to get a “Republican Majority” for a seat on the DC Court of Appeals.

    She said: “Reproductive rights, including the rights to contraception and abortion, play a role in freeing women from historically routine conscription into maternity.” Quelle horreur!

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    it’s hard to necessarily draw any conclusions from developments like this, and it’s probably safe not to.

    Indeed, especially when you consider the fact that 5 different justices could vote against taking a case for 5 entirely different reasons.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:


    She said: “Reproductive rights, including the rights to contraception and abortion, play a role in freeing women from historically routine conscription into maternity.” Quelle horreur!


  10. grumpy realist says:

    @JohnMcC: Suggest you read some of the science fiction by Lois McMaster Bujold. I particularly like Ethan of Athos, where a man, raised on a world where women have been completely replaced by uterine replicators, has to go off-planet to meet…..THEM.

    (She also makes some pretty good remarks about the value of women’s mothering and taking-care-of services, which are still shoved to the side in present-day society. If Ayn Rand had really wanted to write a blow-your-socks off book, she would have written Atlas Shrugged to be the strike that occurs when all female and male caretakers walk off from their unpaid jobs.)

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: P.S. It gets even better when you get a legal decision that has 5 different opinions. Uh, what?

    Which is one reason why the USPTO has said: “We’re not going to change our policies in line of the CLS Bank en banque decision.”

    Which is somewhat annoying because there are so few patent cases that get high up enough in the appeals system that we get the chance of the judges actually making a decision on unsettled law. And then they spend the entire time coming up with a decision that is totally inapplicable to anything further down the pipeline. Which means the best legal opinion we can give our clients is: nobody knows!

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist:

    And then they spend the entire time coming up with a decision that is totally inapplicable to anything further down the pipeline. Which means the best legal opinion we can give our clients is: nobody knows!

    Isn’t that just job security for lawyers? I mean, if nobody knows, the only way to settle it is to go to court! Of course, I guess that is only good news for litigators.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: That’s why we called the America Invents Act the Patent Litigator’s Permanent Employment Act.

    This is the problem with trying to “improve” stuff by statute–there’s always very much of a lag time between the time the legislation is passed and the time we get all the bugs out. (Hell, we still haven’t fixed all the problems with Hatch-Waxman!) So, yeah, let’s try to think of all of the stuff before we pass new laws, pretty please? That badly-written clause you thought you could easily stick in because some lobbying group requested that you do so? Buzzsaw after buzzsaw….

  14. An Interested Party says:

    Quelle horreur!

    Typed by a man, of course…the line that goes “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament” is so true…it would also probably be a passed constitutional amendment, no doubt…