RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would be joining a group of 19 other attorneys general defending reproductive rights after Arkansas attempted to “ban almost all procedural abortions in the state, using the COVID-19 public health crisis as an excuse.”
On March 11, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson issued an order declaring a state of emergency. Shortly after, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) released a statement urging health care facilities to “prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures now and for the coming several weeks.”
The statement said their goals were to “preserve staff, personal protective equipment (PPE), and patient care supplies; ensure staff and patient safety; and expand available hospital capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Three days later, Governor Stitt’s office confirmed “any type of abortion services…which are not a medical emergency…or otherwise necessary to prevent serious health risks” would be included in the executive order.
As of April 21, the only abortion clinic in Arkansas licensed to perform procedural abortions is the Little Rock Family Planning Services (LRFPS) health clinic.
In early April, officials say ADH representatives called the clinic twice asking what they were doing to reduce non-essential services, preserve PPE, and protect against the spread of COVID-19. On April 7, ADH inspectors also inspected the clinic in person.
On all occasions, LRFPS summarized practices they were following and the ADH “at no point suggested that LRFPS was not complying with the state’s April 3 directive.”
However, on the morning of April 10, officials say ADH inspectors delivered a cease-and-desist order to the facility.
In the order, they claimed the clinic was “in violation of the April 3, 2020 Arkansas Department of Health Directive on Elective Surgeries,” despite acknowledging the April 7 inspection “did not reveal any deficiencies with respect to the rules for abortion facilities in Arkansas.”
The next day, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order halting the state from shutting down LRFPS’s procedural abortions.
Arkansas is not alone in attempting to issue the bans. Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee have also attempted similar orders limiting women’s reproductive rights.
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In a public statement on Monday, AG Herring announced his joining in the coalition. Together they filed the amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth District, supporting the plaintiffs in Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Leslie Rutledge.
“Lawmakers in Arkansas should be focused on protecting their residents and preventing further spread of COVID-19 instead of using the pandemic as a cover for passing policies that are based on ideology not science.”Mark Herring | Attorney General
In the briefing, AG Herring and his colleagues argue the ban on procedural abortions in Arkansas violates a woman’s constitutional rights.
The coalition says the “characterization of the ban as prohibiting only ‘elective’ procedures fails to recognize how the time-sensitive nature of abortion care distinguishes that care from services that can be postponed without patient harm during the current public health crisis” because “abortions cannot be deferred indefinitely or for long stretches without increasing risks for some women and denying access to others.”
The group also highlights that if the ban were to be reinstated, some women in Arkansas would have to make “risky and expensive” travel plans to cross state lines to have the abortion.
They express additional concern for those forced to leave the state when citizens are being asked to limit travel to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Finally, the coalition explains why they believe a ban on abortion would not help the state preserve PPE, free up hospital beds, or prevent the spread of COVID-19 transmissions. The attorneys general note procedural abortions as requiring “far less PPE and medical resources than continuing a pregnancy” and “rarely require admission to a hospital.”
As of April 21, women seeking abortions in Arkansas have two options:
- A medication abortion, which can take place through the 10th week of pregnancy
- Or a procedural abortion, which can take place through approximately 22 weeks of pregnancy
Medical professionals — including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — also recently criticized abortion bans potentially being put in place by multiple states during the spread of COVID-19.
They shared concerns similiar to the coalitions, saying delays in time-sensitive reproductive health care could “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”
“Women deserve the right to make decisions about her own reproductive health and her body without her government getting involved,”Mark Herring | Virginia Attorney General
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