April 12, 2020

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal court issued a preliminary injunction tonight preventing the state of Alabama from using the guise of the COVID-19 crisis to prevent people from obtaining abortion care. The ruling expands on an earlier temporary restraining order, which was set to expire on April 13, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama on behalf of Dr. Yashica Robinson and three independent abortion clinics.

The ACLU, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights have brought similar litigation in other states, successfully blocking attempts by Ohio and Oklahoma to use the pandemic to cut off access to abortion care, and forcing the governor of Iowa to walk back a blanket ban on abortion services during the COVID-19 crisis. In Texas, however, most abortions are currently prohibited and providers have asked the Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis.

“This decision ensures that Alabamians can continue to access the abortions they need to protect their health during this crisis,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Preventing someone from getting an abortion doesn’t do anything to stop the COVID-19 virus, it just takes the decision whether to have a child out of their hands.”

In its decision, the district court wrote that “[c]onsidered in their real-world context . . . [t]he possible implications of a postponement, applied across the board, are varied and deeply troubling, as the court discussed above. The medical restrictions would amplify existing challenges, pose severe health risks, and render abortions functionally unavailable for at least some women.” The court also recognized that the right to abortion is centered on the “essential values” of “dignity and autonomy” and that “these essential values require the court’s protection, even (or, maybe especially) in an emergency.” 

“Politicians should be focused on protecting the health and safety of our community, not using the pandemic as a way to limit access to abortion,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “This is a critical victory that ensures that the government response to the pandemic is grounded in public health, not politics.”

“As health care providers, we hold the health and safety of our patients above all else,” said Dr. Yashica Robinson, an Alabama OB/GYN and plaintiff in the case. “We must all do our part during this public health crisis, but  this decision allows doctors who perform abortions, just like all other doctors, to exercise our judgment to ensure that essential, time sensitive health care can continue.”

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