Appeals Court Allows Abortion Care to Continue in Oklahoma During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Appeals Court upholds lower court ruling to block COVID-19 abortion ban in case filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America
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Today, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals let stand a lower court’s decision temporarily blocking Gov. Kevin Stitt’s ban on abortion care in Oklahoma during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means abortion providers in the state can continue providing essential, time-sensitive abortion care. The appeals court denied the state’s request to block a temporary restraining order issued by a lower court on April 6. Abortion providers will now seek a preliminary injunction from the district court which will continue to block the ban from taking effect until the case concludes. 

“It’s important that the appellate court rejected Oklahoma’s attempt to ban abortions in the state,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time for Oklahoma and other states to stop exploiting the pandemic to shutdown clinics. Oklahoma’s true motive has never been more apparent. This has nothing to do with the current pandemic--it’s purely politics.” 

“Today Oklahomans can breathe a temporary sigh of relief. But the fight is not over. Instead of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Stitt is wasting valuable time and resources to attack essential, time-sensitive abortion services that cannot wait for a pandemic to pass,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Gov. Stitt’s relentless attacks on health care access during a public health crisis is making a dire situation even worse. We won’t stand for it. Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these cruel attacks on the abortion services our patients need in Oklahoma and across the country — no matter what.”

“We are relieved that the court upheld access to abortion, since we know our patients who need essential, time-sensitive medical procedures like abortion cannot wait,” said Brandon Hill, PhD, president and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “The last thing public officials should do in the midst of a public health crisis is attack health care of any kind. We will do everything in our power to ensure our doors remain open for the patients who need sexual and reproductive health care, including access to abortion.”

“It’s not hard to understand that abortion is time sensitve and cannot wait,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women. “We are open and taking serious precautions to ensure the safety of our patients, staff and community.”

This lawsuit was filed on March 30 by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America after Gov. Stitt issued an order requiring all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures be postponed. Gov. Stitt subsequently declared that the order prohibits all abortions in the state, forcing all health centers to halt abortion services. Executive orders like these have forced some patients to travel hundreds of miles to find abortion services during the pandemic.

Oklahoma is not the first state to attempt to ban abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, and other organizations have filed lawsuits in multiple states. Temporary restraining orders allowing abortion services to continue have been secured in Alabama and Ohio. Over the weekend, abortion providers in Texas filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that medication abortions be allowed to continue in the state.

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 this case, stating: “[B]anning abortion will not help address the pandemic. Most abortions do not require any hospital resources and use only minimal PPE. And banning abortion will actually increase use of those resources and contribute to spread of the virus.” 

The Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging a host of other abortion restrictions in Oklahoma, including: a ban on the use of telemedicine to provide medication abortion; a law that forces patients to delay their abortion for at least 72 hours after receiving certain state-mandated information; a “physician-only” law that bans qualified medical professionals from providing medication abortion; a ban on the standard method of abortion after approximately 14 weeks of pregnancy; and a law requiring doctors to tell patients that some abortions can be “reversed” — a patently false statement.

This lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pro-bono counsel Dechert LLP, and local counsel Blake Patton of Walding & Patton PLLC. Plaintiffs in the case are Trust Women — an abortion provider with clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas — Dr. Larry Burns, and Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which provides abortion services in Oklahoma and Kansas. 

The decision is available here.  

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MEDIA CONTACTS:  

Center for Reproductive Rights: center.press@reprorights.org; 585-919-9966  

Planned Parenthood Media Office: media.office@ppfa.org; 212-261-4433;  

Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains: Mandy Culbertson; mandy.culbertson@ppgreatplains.org; 913.735.6567