By Andrew Chung
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday allowed Arkansas to enforce a ban on most surgical abortions a part of a state directive aimed at postponing medical procedures not deemed urgent during the coronavirus outbreak.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri, lifted a federal judge’s order that had allowed the procedure to continue to be performed. The appeals court ruling does not affect abortions induced through medication in the early stage of pregnancy, which is still allowed.
The ruling comes two days after another federal appeals court allowed Texas to enforce curbs on abortions via medication as part of that state’s response to the pandemic.
Arkansas and Texas are among a handful of conservative states that have pursued limits on abortion during the crisis, saying they want to ensure that medical resources, including protective equipment, are available to help healthcare facilities cope with people with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
The 8th Circuit said that the lower court judge “usurped the functions of the state government by second-guessing the state’s policy choices in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The latest dispute began after the Arkansas Department of Health on April 10 ordered abortion clinic Little Rock Family Planning to halt surgical abortions except those to protect the mother’s life or health.
The clinic asked a federal court to block the state’s move, claiming the restrictions violated the right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued an order temporarily blocking the restriction on April 14.
The state turned to the 8th Circuit to lift the injunction. The abortion clinic urged the appeals court to deny the request, saying it has all the protective equipment it needs and has no plans to use state resources. The clinic said barring abortions would this week alone bar six women from having an abortion because they will soon be past the legal limit to do so.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)