Eight states that have enacted temporary bans on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic are contending with legal challenges, and judges have prevented many of the temporary bans from coming into effect.
Judges have so far intervened to allow abortions in some form in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa, Louisiana, and Tennessee, after the leaders of those states attempted to classify elective abortions as non-essential procedures.
In Texas, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled Monday that the state's ban on elective abortions, including medical abortions, can be reinstated. This decision reversed a lower court's decision, and that of one of its own panels.
In Iowa, abortion advocates had filed a lawsuit against the state’s order, but reached an agreement with the state outside of court before the lawsuit could progress.
In Alaska, a move by state officials to “delay” abortions until June has not been legally challenged; and in Mississippi, the state’s order banning all “elective” medical procedures also has not been challenged. Louisiana’s order to stop elective abortions is facing a lawsuit but has not been blocked.
Many states have suspended medical procedures deemed non-emergency or non-essential in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus among healthcare professionals, and to free up medical resources and hospital capacity.
In Texas, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit court ruled April 7 that Texas has the authority to halt elective abortions as non-essential medical procedures during a public health emergency. Governor Greg Abbott had on March 22 issued a statewide order halting abortions, and abortion clinics in the state immediately sued.
Abortion clinics in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, which have not introduced any kinds of ban on abortion, have seen increases in patients traveling from Texas to obtain abortions.
On April 14, a federal appeals court ruled that so-called medication abortions can continue in Texas despite the order. Most surgical abortions are still prohibited in Texas, except for emergencies or pregnancies “nearing the state's 22-week cutoff,” NPR reports.
An April 20 decision by the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state can reinstate its ban on elective abortions, including medical abortions.
On April 17, a federal judge ruled that despite Tennessee’s temporary ban on nonessential medical procedures, the state must allow abortions to continue.
Governor Bill Lee had issued an emergency order April 8 banning abortions for three weeks, with the goal of freeing up protective medical equipment for doctors caring for COVID-19 patients and limiting interactions between patients and abortionists.
The reason the judge gave for allowing abortions, according to the AP, is that the defendants did not show that an appreciative amount of protective medical equipment would be saved by halting abortions in the state.
On April 12, a federal judge ruled that the state of Alabama cannot move to limit abortion procedures through measures intended to focus medical resources on fighting coronavirus. Governor Kay Ivey had issued a statewide order March 19 which stopped all medical procedures except for emergencies or those needed to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition or disease, or necessary as part of a patient’s ongoing and active treatment.”
Granting a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote that “efforts to combat COVID-19 do not outweigh the lasting harm imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to terminate her pregnancy, by an undue burden or increase in risk on patients imposed by a delayed procedure, or by the cloud of unwarranted prosecution against providers.”
Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stitt clarified March 27 that the order prohibited elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at risk, among the non-essential surgeries that were to be halted. The order also stopped “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures such as orthopedic surgeries.”
On April 1, Stitt extended the order’s prohibitions until April 30. On March 30, abortion providers in the state challenged the halt to elective abortions in court. On April 7, Judge Charles Goodwin of Oklahoma’s Western District Court put a temporary stay on Stitt’s order, allowing some abortions, including medication abortions, to continue.
The court’s restraining order is in effect until April 20, after which the court can let it expire or address the situation again.
On April 6, a court ruled that Ohio cannot stop abortion clinics from operating due to COVID-19.
Ohio had ordered a halt on surgical abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the pandemic, before a district court put a temporary restraining order on that policy March 30.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on April 14 granted a temporary restraining order against the state of Arkansas’ order to halt elective abortions.
Governor Kim Reynolds issued an order March 30 classifying abortion as an elective procedure and banning them during the pandemic, but the state later acknowledged that the order only suspends "nonessential" surgical abortions that can be delayed without undue risk to the health of the patient, the Des Moines Register reports.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa had filed a lawsuit against the state’s order but voluntarily withdrew its motion for an emergency injunction after the state responded to the lawsuit.
The Louisiana Department of Health on March 21 ordered all medical and surgical procedures be postponed until further notice, with exceptions for emergencies.
Abortion clinics in the state have sued to block the measure.
Governor Tate Reeves issued an executive order April 10 banning all “elective” medical procedures, including abortions, with the order expiring April 27.
Governor Mike Dunleavy on March 19 added surgical abortions to a list of procedures that should be delayed until June 15.
The state’s list, updated April 7, includes several other types of surgeries including cancer, cardiac, and children’s procedures, including circumcisions, that could be postponed, Alaska Public Media reported.