Federal judge lifts Oklahoma’s COVID-19 abortion restrictions

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction to allow abortion care to continue in Oklahoma.

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.”

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.

The appeals court denied the state’s request to block a temporary restraining order issued by a lower court on April 6.

On Monday night, a federal judge in Oklahoma granted a preliminary injunction to allow abortion care to continue. The initial order allowed abortions to continue through April 20, but this injunction extends that until the case concludes.

“This ruling is a significant win for the people of Oklahoma that recognizes that reproductive care is essential, time-sensitive health care that cannot be delayed. Trust Women is thankful to continue to provide care because we know the barriers our patients face during this time of need,” said Julie Burkhart, Founder and CEO of Trust Women. “We’re relieved that the people of Oklahoma will continue to be able to access essential health care in their communities – without traveling to other states or putting themselves in harm’s way.” 

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