Federal judge blocks Arkansas surgical abortion virus ban

April 15, 2020 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Arkansas’ order preventing the state’s only surgical abortion clinic from performing the procedure during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision came as health officials announced that at least 1,498 people in the state have been infected with the coronavirus, an increase over the 1,410 reported a day earlier. Two more people died because of the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 32.


U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted the temporary restraining order that Little Rock Family Planning requested against the state. Arkansas had ordered the facility to halt surgical abortions unless they’re needed to protect the life or health of the mother.


“The limited record supports the ... allegation that enforcement of the (order) against LRFP will inflict serious physical, emotional, and psychological injuries on LRFP’s patients by forcing them to delay, or altogether forgo, access to abortion care,” Baker wrote.

The state accused the clinic of violating its order preventing elective surgeries that could be safely postponed. Other states have used similar orders to restrict abortions during the public health crisis.

“The state’s action had nothing to do with public health, and everything to do with politicians using the pandemic as an excuse to violate the constitution and further their extreme agenda,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represented the clinic.

The clinic said 20 patients, who were not candidates for abortion-inducing medication, were scheduled for surgical abortions this week.

The attorney general’s office said she would take “immediate steps” to have the ruling reversed.

“Attorney General Rutledge is extremely disappointed in today’s decision to blatantly disregard good public health guidelines and temporarily halt the Health Department’s directive without allowing the State to be heard,” spokeswoman Amanda Priest said.


Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the decision on when to lift Arkansas’ restrictions will remain with the state, despite President Donald Trump’s initial assertion that he has “total” authority over the states.

“I welcome national guidance and assistance. We’ve been a good partner. We’ve tried to follow CDC guidelines,” the Republican governor said of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But we will do what is needed in the best interest of Arkansans, and I think that’s what the people expect.”

In the face of resistance from governors from both parties, Trump abruptly reversed course. He said Tuesday that he would leave it to governors to determine the right time and manner to reopen activity in their states. Trump said he would be speaking with governors, probably on Thursday, to discuss his plans.

Hutchinson has closed public schools for the rest of the academic year, shuttered many businesses, and banned public gatherings of more than 10 people to stem the spread of the virus. He has stopped short of a broader stay-at-home order issued by governors in most other states.

He said he’s looking to a new medical advisory board for guidance on the criteria for lifting the limits.


State Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith said the number of inmates who have tested positive at the Central Arkansas Community Correction Center in Little Rock has risen to 17 from five on Monday. Twenty-seven staff have tested positive at the 162-inmate facility.

Smith said officials are testing all the facility’s inmates. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.


The governor issued an executive order allowing first responders and front-line health care workers to file for workers’ compensation if they contract coronavirus on the job.


Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak