In a victory for reproductive rights advocates, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker has issued a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of Arkansas’ ban on abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like several other states, Arkansas attempted to stop all but emergency abortions during the pandemic, supposedly to preserve resources for COVID-19 care and reduce the virus’ spread.
As part of its coronavirus response, the Arkansas Department of Health ordered a halt on all medical procedures “that can be safely postponed shall be rescheduled to an appropriate future date.” The Arkansas Attorney General’s office declared that order applied to “any type of abortion that is not immediately medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” The order would permit medication abortions but prohibit all surgical abortions.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several Arkansas abortion clinics challenged the order, requesting a temporary restraining order to allow abortion care to continue as normal. Baker granted that request, noting that the state’s order is likely unconstitutional because it would eliminate abortion access for anyone for whom medication abortion is not an option.
“With this order, the court has ensured that essential, time-sensitive health care can continue, and rebuffed Arkansas’ attempts to restrict access to abortion,” said Ruth Harlow, an ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project senior staff attorney.
This ruling is the latest in a series of legal victories for abortion advocates fighting restrictions in several states during the coronavirus pandemic. Just this week, federal courts blocked bans in Oklahoma and Alabama. On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed its initial decision upholding Texas’ ban, ruling that the state must allow medication abortions to continue.
Sources: The Hill 4/14/20; CNN 4/14/20