Federal Judge Blocks Oklahoma Abortion Ban As Other States Push to Bar Access Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

On Monday, a federal district judge in Oklahoma temporarily blocked the state's efforts to ban abortion during the coronavirus outbreak.

State Gov. Kevin Stitt sought to bar access to abortion as part of a policy prohibiting medical procedures deemed non-essential and non-urgent.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Charles Goodwin, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said that the ban would cause "irreparable harm" to women prevented from accessing timely care.

"There is no dispute that the State of Oklahoma—like governments across the globe—is facing a health crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic that requires, and will continue for an indeterminate time to require, emergency measures," Goodwin wrote. "In this effort to secure the health and safety of the public, the State has broad power to act and even, temporarily, impose requirements that intrude upon the liberty of its citizens."

However, Goodwin wrote, "that power is not unfettered, however, and courts should carefully guard against 'unreasonable,' 'arbitrary,' or 'oppressive' exercises of it."

The federal judge's warning comes as a number of states have pushed to see access to abortion care barred as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The argument states have made is that abortion should not be considered an essential procedure and should therefore be prohibited unless the pregnancy poses a direct threat to a woman's life.

In a press release sent out on Monday, Planned Parenthood noted that "Oklahoma is not the first state to attempt to ban abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Already, The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have filed lawsuits in Texas, Alabama, Iowa and Ohio responding to similar efforts.

As in Oklahoma, restraining orders were secured in Alabama, Ohio and Texas. However, last month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the temporary restraining order barring the policy in Texas. As it stands, abortion is now among a number of non-essential procedures that have been prohibited in the state.

Speaking with Newsweek after the rule was allowed to move forward, Dr. Bhavik Kumar, the medical director of primary and trans care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, Texas, described how patients would break down in tears upon learning they would no longer be able to undergo the procedure in their home state.

Abortion protest
Pro-choice activists supporting legal access to abortion protest during a demonstration outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2020, as the Court hears oral arguments regarding a Louisiana law about abortion access. A number of states have sought to introduce policies barring access to abortion as part of their responses to the coronavirus outbreak. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

Kumar said some women had expressed that they were considering risking at-home alternatives, while others planned to drive or fly out of state in order to under the procedure, feeling forced to put themselves and others at risk at a time when people in the U.S. are being advised to stay home and practice social distancing.

The doctor warned that policies barring access to abortion care would put patients and others at greater risk during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to states that have actively sought to push new policies forward, concerns around the future of access to abortion care have also been raised in a number of other states, including West Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi.

While West Virginia's only abortion provider has continued to provide abortion care during the pandemic, the state's Republican Governor, Jim Justice, has suggested that there is "no categorical exemption for abortion" or "any procedure" when it comes to the state's efforts to limit so-called non-essential medical procedures during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Charleston Gazette-Mail.

In Louisiana, officials have continued to allow doctors to use their medical judgment to decide what should be considered an essential procedure, despite state officials asserting that facilities offering abortion services should cease doing so.

In Kentucky, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, has asked health officials to rule on whether abortion providers are violating an existing order from Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, banning elective medical procedures.

Beshear has said that he will "leave it to our health professionals to determine what falls in the elective or the essential."

Meanwhile, in Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said last month that he believed abortion should be considered a prohibited non-essential medical procedure under the state's coronavirus response policy, raising fears that access could be barred.

Responding to Monday's temporary restraining order on Oklahoma's efforts to enforce an abortion ban, Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that while "this is a relief for patients, they should have never had to wait for a judge to rule before accessing the time-sensitive care they needed."

"Gov. Stitt is wasting valuable time and resources using the COVID-19 pandemic to score political points," McGill Johnson said. "To politicians and anti-abortion groups playing political games amid a pandemic, let this be a lesson to you that we won't allow you to put our patients and the community at risk."

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Federal Judge Blocks Oklahoma Abortion Ban As Other States Push to Bar Access Amid Coronavirus Outbreak | U.S.