Planned Parenthood, ACLU sue four states over abortion restrictions during pandemic

Planned Parenthood, ACLU sue four states over abortion restrictions during pandemic
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Abortion rights groups sued government officials in Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and Alabama on Monday to ensure access to abortion during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Officials in those states have either said that orders suspending nonessential medical procedures apply to abortions or have issued directives that left providers unclear about whether they are running afoul of the law.

The pause on nonessential procedures across the country is meant to conserve masks and gloves for health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Several governors have issued such orders but divisions have emerged between red and blue states over whether abortion is an essential procedure.

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Abortion rights groups argue that the pandemic is being used by some states as a guise to block abortion access.

“A global pandemic is not an excuse to attack essential, time-sensitive medical procedures like abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the groups bringing the lawsuits.

Under a proclamation issued by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) last week, all nonessential medical procedures are suspended until April 16. 

Reynolds's office clarified Friday in a statement to the Des Moines Register that the suspension includes abortion, joining governors in Ohio, Texas and Mississippi who have taken similar actions. 

Alabama also suspended elective surgeries, but abortion providers in the state had been unable to get clarification on whether that included abortion. Doctors who continue performing non-essential services could be subject to criminal penalties.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R), meanwhile, sent letters to abortion providers earlier this month ordering they stop performing "non-essential or elective surgical abortions." State officials, including Gov. Mike DeWine, have made contradictory remarks in recent days about whether surgical abortions would be allowed under the order. 

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) also said last week that the suspension of elective surgeries in his state also applied to abortions. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood is representing abortion providers in the lawsuit against Oklahoma. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are part of the lawsuits in Iowa, Ohio and Alabama.

Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights also filed suit last week against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for suspending abortions.

Meanwhile, governors in  Virginia, New Jersey, Washington and New York have said abortion is an essential medical procedure that can be continued during the pandemic. 

Updated at 4:01 p.m.