LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion today permitting the state of Arkansas to ban all procedural abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling reverses a ruling by the District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas that blocked the state’s efforts to use the guise of the public health crisis to prevent abortion services.

Arkansas now joins Texas as the only states where state politicians have succeeded in barring virtually all procedural abortions (sometimes referred to as surgical abortions) during the COVID-19 crisis. In four other states — Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee — courts have ruled that attempts to bar abortion care are unjustified by the pandemic and are unconstitutional.

“This is decision contradicts everything leading medical experts have told us about abortion — that it is essential, time-sensitive health care, and it need not and must not be restricted during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Arkansas has singled pregnant patients out for denial of health care while it lets health care for others continue as the medical facts require. This case is far from over.”

"This ruling defies the advice of leading medical organizations who have warned that blocking abortion care will further endanger people's health during this pandemic,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director at the ACLU of Arkansas. “We're reviewing the ruling and evaluating all options for preserving abortion access during this dangerous and difficult time. For the health and safety of all Arkansans, state officials need to focus on protecting people from the pandemic, not using the virus as an excuse to advance their own extremist political agendas."  

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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