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Arkansas sued over restricting abortion access during coronavirus

Posted April 13, 2020 5:53 p.m. EDT

— Arkansas abortion providers sued state officials on Monday for limiting abortion access during the coronavirus pandemic, joining a growing list of challenges to similar orders from various states.

Because the state limit on abortion "imposes a ban on abortion prior to viability -- and poses significant burdens on women seeking abortion in Arkansas with minimal or no medical or safety benefit -- the Ban violates... Plaintiffs' patients' right to privacy guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution," lawyers for the Little Rock Family Planning Services clinic, clinic doctor Thomas Tvedten and the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in court documents Monday.

The challenge stems from an Arkansas Department of Health order dictating that procedures "that can be safely postponed shall be rescheduled to an appropriate future date" except for instances to prevent the death, permanent physical damage or disease advancement of a patient.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office specified that the order applies to "any type of abortion that is not immediately medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother," with Rutledge promising "decisive action" for those found to violate the order.

In court documents Monday, lawyers for the providers alleged that state health department representatives came to an Arkansas clinic on Friday "to demand that clinicians cease providing surgical-abortion care to numerous women."

If the court does not block the directive, the groups argued, "many women will be forced to delay their access to abortion (thereby -- needlessly -- increasing the risk to their health and well-being)."

Rutledge "has stated she will wholeheartedly defend the Health Department's directive," Amanda Priest, Rutledge's communications director, told CNN on Monday. "She is currently reviewing the documents filed by Little Rock Family Planning to determine the next steps."

The Arkansas providers are following those in Texas, Ohio, Alabama and Oklahoma that have brought federal challenges against similar state orders looking to limit abortion access. Initially, federal judges have in all four states temporarily blocked the bans, but the results in higher courts have varied widely. While earlier this month an appeals court affirmed the lower court's ruling blocking Ohio's order, plaintiffs in the Texas case have petitioned the case to the Supreme Court following four back-and-forth orders from federal and appeals courts.

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