Several states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas, appear to be using the coronavirus shutdowns to escalate their ongoing fights over abortion access. These bans are being challenged in court to varying degrees and the results of these cases have the potential to dramatically change the pre-pandemic landscape of the right to abortion access in some of these states.
Federal judges have ruled against bans in states, including Alabama, Ohio, and Oklahoma but as the shutdown continues, cases citing that bans are part of emergency measures to fight the virus, continue to be filed and appear in court. Many states use the reasoning that abortions are elective surgeries that are not medically necessary. One example of this is Arkansas.
Arkansas is facing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union for banning abortion at the state’s only clinic- albeit they are allowing dental appointments amidst the coronavirus pandemic’s shutdowns, when many state dental associations are recommending that dentists close their practices for non-emergency dental needs.
The difficult challenges these shutdowns are presenting to women in these states are varied. A story out of Texas is of a woman who had scheduled an abortion prior to the pandemic panic shutting things down in the United States. She decided to get an abortion because she had just been laid off and financially, could not afford to take care of her three children let alone a newborn; and because she knew should not handle another baby physically and emotionally on top of her two young children and six months old. When she arrived at the local clinic she had scheduled the procedure at, the doors were locked and a sign said that the clinic was closed. This is because Texas had included abortions on a list of medical procedures that were not essential and needed to be postponed during the pandemic. As of last week, her search for a place that she could get an abortion included four states, six clinics and she was considering driving nine hours with her infant son in the back seat, to get one in Kansas.
Much of the medical community is in strong disagreement with Texas and other states because they believe that abortion is time-sensitive and it could be months before emergency measures are lifted. Texas had even banned medication abortions that do not involve surgical procedures but in an unexpected ruling on Monday night from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the ban has been lifted- for now.
Advocates for the right to abortion are concerned about the financial implications of these bans and potentially bankrupting clinics that perform them, as well as how long it will take to get these bans lifted once the stay-at-home and shutdown orders are lifted.