Center Lawsuits Seek to Protect Essential Abortion Access During Pandemic

03.31.2020

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The Center for Reproductive Rights has joined partners in filing emergency lawsuits in five states to ensure that patients can access essential, time-sensitive abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuits, filed on behalf of abortion providers in Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Iowa and Ohio, argue that those states are imposing unconstitutional bans on abortion by claiming that abortion is non-essential health care. 

In response to the lawsuits, temporary restraining orders were issued Monday in Texas, Ohio and Alabama to allow abortion care to continue, but today the Texas order was stayed. 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure, and delaying this care could “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”  Yet anti-abortion politicians, amid this pandemic, are taking advantage of the urgency of the COVID-19 response as an opportunity to block access to abortion care.  

Texas 

In a case against the Governor of Texas and other state officials, the temporary restraining order  granted by a federal district court allowing abortion services to continue was stayed temporarily by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “The Fifth Circuit is escalating the fear and confusion women seeking abortion in Texas are already experiencing. The trial court found just yesterday that women will suffer irreparable harm if clinics are closed. We will continue fighting this legal battle against Texas’ abuse of emergency powers.” 

The Center had filed the complaint on March 25, along with  Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Lawyering Project, after the Texas Attorney General interpreted the Governor’s executive order postponing all surgeries and procedures not deemed immediately medically necessary to include “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” 

In granting the temporary restraining order, Judge Lee Yeakel wrote, “Plaintiffs' patients will suffer serious and irreparable harm in the absence of a temporary restraining order. The attorney general's interpretation of the Executive Order prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.” 

Oklahoma 

Also yesterday, the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Dechert LLP, filed a challenge to an Oklahoma order effectively banning abortion care in the state.  

The order, issued March 24 by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, requires all “elective” medical and surgical procedures be postponed. In a press release issued March 27, Governor Stitt singled out abortion care, claiming that the order prohibited all abortions in the state.  

“Oklahoma’s abuse of emergency powers to ban abortion care is dangerous and unconstitutional,” said Northup. “Oklahoma has tried, year after year, to limit access to abortion and the Governor’s order is a cynical attempt to use the current crisis to push an ideological agenda.”  

 
Alabama, Iowa and Ohio 

The Center for Reproductive Rights was joined by partner organizations who filed lawsuits and motions on behalf of abortion providers in Alabama, Iowa and Ohio on Monday to stop those states’ attempts to block access to essential abortion care. On Monday, Alabama and Ohio issued temporary restraining orders allowing abortion care to proceed.

Each state has used the COVID-19 pandemic to deny access to time-sensitive abortion care by declaring abortion care non-essential.  

Plaintiffs are being represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, The Lawyering Project, and other local and national firms. 

“These emergency abortion bans are an abuse of power and part of an ongoing effort to use sham justifications to shut down clinics and make an end run around Roe v. Wade,” said Northup. “These same states have tried to ban abortion access for years; no one should be fooled that this is warranted by the current crisis. We will use every legal means to ensure that abortion care remains available during this critical time.”  

Legal filings in these cases: