Arkansas’s only in-clinic abortion provider, Little Rock Family Planning Services, is suing the state to challenge a rule requiring patients to get a COVID-19 test within 48 hours of their abortion procedure. This is the second time Arkansas abortion providers have had to fight a legal battle to protect abortion access during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing Little Rock Family Planning Services, argues that the Department of Health rule severely restricts abortion access, especially for patients who are close to Arkansas’s 20-week gestational limit. Little Rock Family Planning Services reports that it has been unable to find any COVID-19 testing location that will test asymptomatic people and provide results within 48 hours.
“For women who cannot obtain access to COVID-19 NAAT testing within 48-hours of their procedures, the Directive entirely bars them from exercising their constitutional right to receive pre-viability abortion care in Arkansas,” wrote the ACLU in the lawsuit.
Last month, Arkansas tried to halt all but “immediately medically necessary” abortions during the coronavirus pandemic. The ACLU challenged that order, and a federal judge issued a restraining order to allow abortion care to continue as normal. A week later, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban, but the new testing requirement order has since replaced it.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson never issued a statewide stay-at-home order and has allowed restaurants and gyms to reopen without testing requirements, instead limiting restaurants to one-third their normal capacity. Hutchinson has claimed his approach to the pandemic has been effective, but COVID-19 tests remain so scarce in Arkansas that coroners have been unable to confirm the true number of coronavirus deaths in the state.
Sources: CNN 5/1/20; The New York Times 5/1/20