Clinic challenges Arkansas banning abortions during pandemic

Coronavirus

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP/FOX16) — Arkansas’ only surgical abortion clinic has asked a judge to block a state order preventing the clinic from performing the procedure during the coronavirus pandemic except to protect the life or health of the mother.

Little Rock Family Planning Services filed the motion Monday, days after the state sent a cease-and-desist letter to the facility. State health officials have accused the clinic of violating a directive requiring health providers to reschedule surgeries that can be safely postponed.

In its filing, the clinic’s attorneys said many women seeking abortions may travel several hundred miles away to undergo the procedure elsewhere.

The ACLU released the following statement on Monday:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arkansas, law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, and Little Rock lawyer Bettina Brownstein took emergency legal action today on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services and its patients to prevent the state from using the guise of the COVID-19 crisis to prevent people from obtaining abortion care.

Arkansas is one of several states that has attempted to severely restrict access to or entirely ban abortion during the COVID-19 crisis. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights have gone to court in several states and have already secured orders barring the states from preventing people from accessing abortions in Alabama, Ohio, and Oklahoma. In Texas, however, most abortions are currently prohibited, and providers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis.

Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic. Both groups filed an amicus brief in the Texas case, noting that barring abortions “is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.”

“We must all do our part to stop this public health crisis, but the government’s response must be grounded in science and public health, not politics,” said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “As leading medical experts have recognized, abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care and Arkansas’ attempt to prevent patients from accessing abortion care does nothing to protect people from the virus. It just stops people from getting this essential care and forces them to continue their pregnancies against their will which requires substantially more health care resources.”

Arkansas’ move to block abortion access comes even as the state allows other medical providers to exercise their independent professional judgment and provide care to patients that cannot be safely postponed, including orthodontists who are permitted to schedule visits to adjust wires on patients’ braces, and dentists who can see patients for a cracked tooth. 

“Arkansas politicians have been trying to restrict and ban access to abortion for years — passing no fewer than 12 abortion restrictions in 2019 alone,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director at the ACLU of Arkansas. “This latest orchestrated attack has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with politicians using the pandemic to violate the constitution and further their extreme agenda.”

“As health care professionals, the health and safety of our patients is our foremost concern, and we are committed to doing everything we can to protect them, our staff, and our community while providing access to essential health care,” said Lori Williams, clinical director at Little Rock Family Planning Services. “Even during a pandemic, pregnant people require health care — whether it is abortion care or prenatal care and childbirth services — and that care cannot be delayed until after the crisis is over.”

The complaint is online at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/emergency-legal-action-keep-abortion-accessible-arksansas

Statement from ACLU and ACLU of Arkansas

Family Council also released the following statement on Monday:

On Monday attorneys for a surgical abortion facility in Little Rock issued a legal challenge over Arkansas’ directive against elective surgical abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Family Council President Jerry Cox issued a statement saying, “It is completely irresponsible to let elective surgical abortions continue during the coronavirus outbreak. Surgical abortions waste precious medical resources. We have ample evidence that women from neighboring states, including COVID-19 hotspots, are coming to Arkansas for abortions. Traveling like that increases the risk that people in Arkansas and elsewhere will be exposed to the coronavirus. If we want to slow the spread of coronavirus, we need to put a stop to surgical abortions for the time being.”

Cox said it is reasonable to hold abortionists to the same standards as other healthcare professionals. “Abortionists routinely say that abortion is just another healthcare procedure. If that’s true, then they ought to be willing to abide by the same standards as other clinics. Doctors all over Arkansas have been forced to postpone elective surgeries until this pandemic passes. Abortionists should have to follow the same rules.”

Cox applauded Governor Hutchinson, Attorney General Rutledge, Secretary of Health Dr. Smith, and Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Bledsoe for their leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak. “Arkansas has excellent leaders. They have done a fine job slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Ordering abortionists to stop performing elective surgical abortions was the right call, and I’m confident the courts will agree.”

Cox said he believes the state will win this lawsuit. “Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s team will do a fine job defending the state against this lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit has let Texas restrict abortion procedures to protect public health during this pandemic. I am confident that Arkansas will ultimately win this case.”

Statement from Family Council

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