ACLU and Little Rock Family Planning Seek Emergency Relief for Abortion Patients in Arkansas

April 22, 2020 9:45 pm

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arkansas filed emergency legal action tonight on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning to ensure patients in Arkansas can get an abortion if delaying their abortion until the expiration of the state’s emergency order would push them past the state’s legal limit for abortion care.

Earlier today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion permitting the state of Arkansas to ban procedural abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, Arkansas became the only state permitted to ban a person from getting abortion, even if postponing their care would entirely bar them from getting an abortion. The ruling reverses an earlier ruling by the District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas blocking the state’s efforts to use the guise of the public health crisis to prevent abortion services.

“We cannot sit by as patients in Arkansas are forced to continue a pregnancy and have a child against their will,”said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care — and banning it is unconscionable and unconstitutional at any time. But to do so during a pandemic, when people are already struggling with so much — losing work, keeping their families healthy, and making ends meet — is unthinkably cruel. It’s clear the state’s actions are simply about furthering an anti-abortion agenda, and we are fighting back.”

“People can’t pause their pregnancies, but this politically-motivated ban would force some people to delay care to the point when abortion would no longer be a legal option,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director at the ACLU of Arkansas. “We’re asking the court to intervene and preserve access to those patients for whom a delay would mean being completely cut off from care and forced to continue pregnancies against their will.”

Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic. Both groups filed an amicus brief, noting that barring abortions “is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.”

This lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arkansas, the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, and Little Rock lawyer Bettina Brownstein on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services.

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