Federal district judge blocks Oklahoma’s decision to delay abortions amid COVID-19 pandemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After Governor Kevin Stitt announced that abortion should be considered an elective surgery, a federal district judge has approved a temporary restraining order to block the move.

Late last month, Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered that all non-essential businesses located in counties affected by COVID-19 to close.

Non-essential businesses are considered places with a ‘social gathering’ aspect, like bars, gyms, and massage parlors.

At the same time, Stitt issued a 14-day suspension of all elective surgeries, minor medical procedures and non-emergency dental procedures in order to protect the state’s supply of personal protective equipment for medical workers.

Several days later, Stitt clarified that abortion services that are not considered a medical emergency or otherwise necessary to prevent serious health risks to the mother are included in the executive order.

“We must ensure that our health care professionals, first responders and medical facilities have all of the resources they need to combat COVID-19,” said Gov. Stitt. “I am committed to doing whatever necessary to protect those who are on the front lines fighting against this virus.”

The order postponed all elective surgeries and minor procedures until April 7.

On March 30, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Dechert LLP challenged the order.

“The state claims this order is meant to protect health care professionals and stop the spread of the virus, but forcing women to travel out of state for abortion care is completely contrary to that goal,” said Julie Burkhart, Founder and CEO of Trust Women. “Like many of us, our patients are taking care of kids while schools are closed, and some have lost their jobs. Having to tell them that we can’t help them, that the state has tied our hands, is heart-wrenching.”

The lawsuit argues that Oklahoma’s order effectively bans abortion in Oklahoma, violating Roe V. Wade and nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent.

It also argues that forcing women to travel out of state for abortion care, or to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and give birth, will increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 and undermine the state’s goal of preserving medical resources.

On Monday, a federal district judge in Oklahoma granted a temporary restraining order for the decision. The ruling allows medication abortion to resume in the state, along with abortion procedures for patients who would be pushed beyond the gestation limit for care.

In his decision, Judge Charles Goodwin wrote that the state “has acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way – and imposed an ‘undue burden on abortion access – in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.”

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