COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Court decisions in two U.S. states Monday allowed abortions to continue after the procedure was caught in the crosshairs of governors’ orders suspending all non-essential elective surgeries due to the new coronavirus.
The decisions in Ohio and Oklahoma responded to challenges by abortion rights groups.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear an appeal by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost seeking to reverse a judge’s temporary restraining order allowing abortion facilities in the state to continue performing surgical abortions.
In Oklahoma, a judge issued a similar temporary restraining order against Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s order, allowing clinics there to resume providing medication abortions and procedures for patients who otherwise would see their pregnancies push gestational limits after which abortion is illegal.
Stephanie Ranade Krider, vice president of Ohio Right to Life, the state’s oldest and largest anti-abortion organization, said foes of the procedures were grateful to Yost for trying to hold abortion providers accountable.
Her organization and others had criticized clinics for carrying on with abortions that can require the use of personal protective equipment that’s in intense demand to fight COVID-19.
“The abortion industry ought not interpret this as a loophole to continue ending innocent lives, push abortion on demand, and proceed with business as usual,” Krider said in a statement.
The courts have mostly sided with the clinics, however, finding that women still have a constitutional right to an abortion even during a global health pandemic. A federal judge temporarily blocked a ban in Texas last week but the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals quickly put that ruling on hold, pending a review of the case.
Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based abortion rights group that has successfully sued Oklahoma several times over restrictions on abortion and represented the abortion providers in the current lawsuit, praised the ruling.
“The court has stopped Governor Stitt from exploiting this devastating pandemic as a weapon in his battle to ban abortion,” she said in a statement. “Abortion is time-sensitive, essential healthcare. Women in Oklahoma are again able, for the time being, to access abortion care in their state at a time when travel is even more challenging.”
Stitt’s office did not immediately return phone calls for comment on the ruling.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement that the state will appeal to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I am very disappointed by the court’s judicial override of Oklahoma’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic instead of deferring to the state’s duly elected officials’ discernment,” Hunter said in the statement. “We all are making adjustments to help save thousands of lives — abortion providers should be no different.”
Governors across the country have issued executive orders halting nonessential medical surgeries to free up hospitals, and Republicans have said abortions should be included under those mandates.
AP writer Ken Miller reported in Oklahoma City.