Judge temporarily halts abortion ban as part of coronavirus health order

By: - March 31, 2020 12:25 am

Photo by Getty Images.

A judge has temporarily halted enforcement by the state saying surgical abortions are non-essential services under a coronavirus health order.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio Western Division issued the temporary restraining order Monday. 

The ACLU announced Monday they would be taking the Ohio Department of Health to court on behalf of abortion clinics across the state after enforcement measures were threatened against them.

Pre-Term Cleveland, Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, Women’s Med Group Professional Corporation and Northeast Ohio Women’s Center were seeking the emergency action “to ensure that they can remain open to provide time-sensitive, essential abortion care to patients,” according to a statement by the ACLU. 

The legal action comes after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office sent letters to two Planned Parenthood clinics directing them to cease “non-essential” surgical abortions, citing the order by the Ohio Department of Health to conserve personal protective equipment, or PPEs.

On Monday evening following the judge’s order, Yost said in a release his office would consider an emergency appeal, a trial on the preliminary injunction, a more specifically drawn order, or other remedy.

“The state of Ohio’s overriding interest is to save lives in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the statement read. “That’s the only reason for the Health Department’s order.”

After holding telephone conferences Monday, the judge ruled the state had not proven that “performance of these procedures will result in any beneficial amount of net saving of PPE such that the net saving of PPE outweighs the harm of eliminating abortion,” according to the court order.

“If a healthcare provider determines, on a case-by-case basis, that the surgical procedure is medically indicated and cannot be delayed, based on the timing of pre-viability or other medical conditions, said procedure is deemed legally essential to preserve a woman’s right to constitutionally protected access to abortions,” Barrett wrote in his order. 

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has been asked several times during his daily coronavirus press conferences to comment on whether the order applies to abortions, but he has largely sidestepped the question because of the ongoing legal battle.

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called Yost’s letters “political distractions” wasting time the state and country did not have. 

“A global pandemic is not an excuse to attack essential, time-sensitive medical procedures like abortion,” McGill Johnson said in a statement. 

The heads of Ohio’s Planned Parenthoods also chimed in, saying they would keep their doors open, and a court battle was necessary.

“This lawsuit is not about health care,” a joint statement from CEOs Iris Harvey and Kersha Deibel said. “It’s the result of anti-abortion special interest groups who put politics before an entire community’s health and safety, which is dangerous, reckless, and unforgivable.”

A similar fight is happening in Texas, as that state was stopped by a judge from banning abortions as part of the ban on non-essential surgeries.

The Ohio restraining order is effective for 14 days “unless dissolved earlier or extended by the court.”

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.