Judges Slow Abortion Bans 03/31 06:25
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Federal judges on Monday temporarily blocked
efforts in Texas and Alabama to ban abortions during the coronavirus pandemic,
handing Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers a victory as clinics
across the U.S. filed lawsuits to stop states from trying to shutter them
during the outbreak.
A new Ohio order is also unconstitutional if it prevents abortions from
being carried out, a separate judge ruled Monday. The ruling instructed clinics
to determine on a case-by-case basis if an abortion can be delayed to maximize
resources --- such as preserving personal protective equipment --- needed to
fight the coronavirus. If the abortion is deemed necessary and can't be
delayed, it's declared legally essential.
The rulings indicated judges were pushing back on Republican-controlled
states including abortion in sweeping orders as the outbreak grows in the U.S.
In Texas, the ruling came down after state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a
Republican, said abortion was included in a statewide ban on nonessential
But U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the "Supreme Court has spoken
clearly" on a woman's right to abortion. One abortion provider in Texas, Whole
Woman's Health, said it had canceled more than 150 appointments in the days
after the Texas order went into effect.
"There can be no outright ban on such a procedure," Yeakel wrote. Paxton
said the state would appeal.
The rulings happened Monday as lawsuits were also filed in Iowa and
Oklahoma, after governors in those states similarly ordered a stop to
non-emergency procedures and specifically included abortion among them.
The lawsuits were filed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties
Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and local lawyers in each state.
Their aim, like abortion providers in Texas, is to stop state officials from
prohibiting abortions as part of temporary policy changes related to the
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Friday that abortions were included in
his executive order banning all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures
until April 7, unless the procedure was necessary to prevent serious health
risks to the mother. Stitt said the order was needed to help preserve the
state's limited supply of personal protective equipment, like surgical masks
A spokesman for Stitt referred questions about the challenge to Attorney
General Mike Hunter, who vowed in a statement to defend the ban.
"My office will vigorously defend the governor's executive order and the
necessity to give precedence to essential medical procedures during this
daunting public health crisis," Hunter's statement said. "Make no mistake, this
lawsuit will itself drain significant resources, medical and legal, from
emergency efforts, and likely, directly and indirectly, bring harm to
Oklahomans as a result."
Monday night, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary
restraining order against Alabama's order, saying the ruling with be in effect
through April 13 while he considers additional arguments.
Thompson wrote the state's concerns about conserving medical equipment
during the pandemic, does not "outweigh the serious, and, in some cases,
permanent, harms imposed by the denial of an individual's right to privacy."
Attorneys for the Alabama clinics said facilities had canceled appointments
for 17 people scheduled this week.
"Patients that have already had their appointments canceled have been
devastated; in many instances the calls cancelling the appointments have ended
in tears," lawyers for the clinics wrote.
Alabama closed many nonessential businesses with a state health order,
effective Saturday. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said earlier Monday
the state would not offer a "blanket exemption" to abortion clinics.
In Ohio, Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics that sued last year to try
to thwart a law that bans most abortions after a first detectable fetal
heartbeat are asking a court to speed up its decision in that case and to
consider a recent coronavirus order by the state health director. In filings
Monday, the groups' attorneys argued "the state is again attempting to ban
abortions" through Dr. Amy Acton's directive barring all "non-essential"
procedures and Attorney General Dave Yost's threats that it will be rigidly
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said the governor "is focused
on protecting Iowans from an unprecedented public health disaster, and she
suspended all elective surgeries and procedures to preserve Iowa's health care
Reynolds said Sunday the move was not based on her personal ideology but a
broad order to halt nonessential procedures to conserve medical equipment.
The Iowa lawsuit said abortion procedures do not require extensive use of
medical equipment and do not use N95 respirators, the devices in shortest
supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Patients' abortions will be delayed, and in some cases, denied altogether,"
the lawsuit states. "As a result, Iowa patients will be forced to carry
pregnancies to term, resulting in a deprivation of their fundamental right to
determine when and whether to have a child or to add to their existing
The lawsuits seek court orders halting action pertaining to abortions and
ask judges for immediate hearings.