Planned Parenthood, health clinics win injunction on coronavirus order

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Just as the state began the process of opening up health care facilities, health clinics in the state prevailed on their ability to continue surgical abortions under a coronavirus health order.

After a temporary restraining order was issued keeping the state from taking legal action against Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and other clinics that conduct both surgical and medication abortions, a U.S. District judge granted a preliminary injunction sought by the clinics.

The clinics were fighting an effort by the Ohio Attorney General to cease surgical abortions under the regulations meant to conserve personal protective equipment (PPEs) in case of overwhelming need due to the pandemic.

Violating the order constituted a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable with a fine or up to 90-days in jail, and a loss of ambulatory surgical license for the facility found in violation. Physicians and medical professionals also could have faced the loss of their medical licenses.

Judge Michael R. Barrett, of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio, noted the health order’s regulations in the injunction, including the provision defining a nonessential surgery as a procedure that can be delayed “without undue risk to the current or future health of the patient” and the criteria for essential surgeries that includes “risk of rapidly worsening to severe symptoms (time sensitive).”

“A delay in surgical abortions could also cause a substantial risk of serious harm … to a patient’s health because delaying abortions would force women to remain pregnant until the viability limit and that increases the risk that women will experience pregnancy complications,” Barrett wrote in his court order.

During the process of deciding the case, Barrett said he held telephone conferences with the state and the clinics on March 30, in which the court “invited (the state) to clarify the State’s interpretation of the Director’s Order.”

“(The state) informed the Court that they would offer no such clarification,” the court order read.

However, in appealing the temporary restraining order, the state decided to include a clarification.

The injunction states that healthcare providers can determine on a case-by-case basis whether a procedure is “medically indicated and cannot be delayed, based on the timing of pre-viability or other medical conditions.”

If the procedure is found to be necessary, “said procedure is deemed legally essential to preserve a woman’s right to constitutionally protected access to abortions.”

On Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that medical procedures not requiring an overnight stay in a hospital would now be allowed in the state, including nonessential measures.