Federal judge partially blocks Oklahoma abortion ban


A federal judge in Oklahoma granted a temporary restraining order Monday against the state’s ban on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic. 

United States District Judge Charles Goodwin, a Trump appointee, ruled the ban would cause “irreparable harm” to women unable to get abortions . 

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed an executive order last month directing medical providers to postpone all elective surgeries, including abortions, until April 30 in an effort to conserve medical supplies for health workers on the front lines of the pandemic. 

While the executive order didn’t specify which procedures were considered elective, Stitt’s office later said in a press release the order applies to any type of abortion services that aren’t a medical emergency.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood sued the state, arguing Stitt was using the pandemic as a front to instate an unconstitutional ban on abortion.

The ruling from Goodwin reinstates abortion access for women who would be beyond the legal limit for the procedure by April 30, when the postponement of elective surgeries expires. Oklahoma law bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Goodwin noted that a woman who was 16 weeks pregnant on March 24 — when Stitt issued the executive order — would be 21 weeks pregnant when the order lifts, meaning she would be unable to get an abortion in Oklahoma.

“Absent travel to another state, the postponement directed by the executive order and press release would effectively eliminate the ability of persons in Oklahoma” to get an abortion if they are 20 weeks pregnant before April 30, 2020, Goodwin wrote. This is “oppressive” and “unreasonable,” he wrote.

Goodwin’s order also allows medication abortion to resume in the state because it doesn’t require the same amount of personnel or medical equipment as a surgical abortion, he said. 

“Today’s ruling is important because our patients need and deserve access to abortion care,” said Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

“Abortion is an essential and time-sensitive medical procedure that should not be caught in the crosshairs of political agendas—especially during this public health crisis,” he added.

Still, Goodwin wrote that the state has the authority to postpone some abortion procedures.

It is a “permissible use of state power” to delay abortions for women if they are not past the 20 week threshold by April 30, Goodwin wrote.

“The court concludes the benefit of emergency action during this great public health crisis justifies temporary delay of access to abortion services,” he wrote.

Federal judges have also temporarily blocked similar orders in Ohio, Alabama and Texas. 

However, a federal appeals court issued a stay on the ruling in Texas, allowing the abortion ban to continue. 

Updated at 4:43 pm.

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