Hours after the ACLU and Ohio abortion providers asked a federal court for relief, the court granted their request for a temporary restraining order today to allow abortion procedures to continue for the time being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • A U.S. District Court in Alabama also granted a preliminary injunction today blocking an extreme Alabama law that would have banned abortion in nearly all instances and that threatened doctors with up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion.
  • An Iowa judge has set a hearing for Wednesday to consider whether to block an order by Gov. Kim Reynolds that temporarily halted abortions in the state.

The ACLU filed lawsuits against three states – Ohio, Alabama, and Iowa – over their executive orders shutting down access to abortion care. Let’s call this out for what it is: exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to stop people from getting abortions. We won’t let that happen.

Abortion care is essential, time-sensitive health care – and the clinics that provide them must stay open. In fact, mere hours after filing our Ohio and Alabama lawsuits, judges issued an order allowing the clinics to continue providing abortion care in both states. That’s a good sign, but we have a long fight ahead of us.

This means Ohioans can continue accessing essential and time-sensitive abortion care, for now. This decision comes after anti-abortion activists tried to weaponize the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response in an effort to block access to abortion. Ohio abortion providers — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and local attorneys — went to court to protect patients’ access to abortion. Abortion providers in other states, including Alabama, Iowa, and Oklahoma also filed similar lawsuits today in order to protect abortion access during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, a judge in Texas issued a similar restraining order, granting patients in the state emergency relief and protecting their access to abortion for now.

While doctors and nurses in states everywhere work around the clock to care for patients suffering from COVID-19, anti-abortion activists inserted politics into what should be a personal medical decision. As a result, Ohio providers have had to delay appointments in the ensuing confusion.

Michael Ryan Barrett is a Senior United States District Judge in Ohio.

Michael Ryan Barrett is a Senior United States District Judge in Ohio.

Judge Michael Barrett, the second judge to block using COVID-19 orders to limit abortion access, wrote: “…enforcement of the Director’s Order as applied to surgical abortion procedures will result in an unconstitutional deprivation of Plaintiffs’ patients’ Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process because enforcement creates a substantial obstacle in the path of patients seeking pre-viability abortions, thus creating an undue burden on abortion access.”

“This is a crucial victory for Ohioans’ access to essential abortion care, and in the fight to ensure that the response to the COVID-19 crisis is grounded in public health, not politics. We will continue to fight until these attacks on abortion providers are struck down for good, ” said Statement from Elizabeth Watson, staff attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

“Judge Barrett made the absolute correct decision to keep Ohio abortion clinics open so that they can provide time-sensitive, essential abortion care to patients. The ACLU of Ohio will always fight to ensure that abortion remains accessible and safe, through this public health crisis and afterwards,” said Statement from Jessie Hill, cooperating attorney, ACLU of Ohio.

“Let this swift ruling send a clear message to politicians and anti-abortion activists in other states: Exploiting a global pandemic to ban abortion is illegal. Anti-abortion activists have tried to exploit fear of the COVID-19 pandemic to push a dangerous political agenda. Enough is enough,” said Statement of Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  It’s time to get to work and do what’s necessary to contain the COVID-19 virus and address urgent public health needs that threaten our communities. We must put the health care of our community before politics. Planned Parenthood will continue to fight tirelessly for the rights of our patients to seek out the essential health care they need.”

Experts including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology agree that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure. The groups note that delaying this care could “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.” Delays or additional barriers to care can make it more difficult or even impossible for patients to access safe, legal abortion. For many people of color, who have always faced systemic barriers to health care and are more vulnerable to COVID-19, adding unnecessary restrictions on abortion access poses dangerous risks.