By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – On Monday, April 6, a federal district judge in Oklahoma granted a temporary restraining order at the request of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Dechert LLP, allowing providers to continue abortion services.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an order on March 24 requiring all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures be postponed. He included abortion services in a press release, saying the order prohibited abortions in the state.
Monday’s ruling allows medication abortions to resume in the state, along with abortion procedures for patients who would be pushed beyond the gestation limit for care.
Federal district Judge Charles Goodwin wrote, in his decision, that the state of Oklahoma, “has acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.”
Orders like these have forced some patients to travel hundreds of miles in a pandemic just to access basic and essential health care, according to Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“The court has stopped Governor Stitt from exploiting this devastating pandemic as a weapon in his battle to ban abortion,” said Northup, “Abortion is time-sensitive, essential healthcare. Women in Oklahoma are again able, for the time being, to access abortion care in their state at a time when travel is even more challenging.”
Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women said, “It’s a huge relief that we can start seeing patients again, at least for now. We hope the court will keep the ban blocked so our patients aren’t forced to travel to other states to find abortion care at a time when travel is risky and discouraged.”
“Though this is a relief for patients, they should have never had to wait for a judge to rule before accessing the time-sensitive care they needed. Gov. Stitt is wasting valuable time and resources using the COVID-19 pandemic to score political points,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “To politicians and anti-abortion groups playing political games amid a pandemic, let this be a lesson to you that we won’t allow you to put our patients and the community at risk.”
“Planned Parenthood is committed to ensuring that every person is able to get the essential health care they need,” McGill Johnson continued. “But the same cannot be said for Gov. Stitt. Planned Parenthood will work day by day, week by week to safeguard the ability of patients and the community to access essential health care, no matter what.”
Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association (AMA) have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic.
“At this critical moment and every moment, physicians – not politicians – should be the ones deciding which procedures are urgent-emergent and need to be performed, and which ones can wait, in partnership with our patients,” the AMA stated,
“Today’s ruling is important because our patients need and deserve access to abortion care,” said Brandon Hill, Ph.D., 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,” Hill added. “Access to health care is a basic human right, and every person deserves care that gives them control over their own bodies, lives, and futures.
“Planned Parenthood Great Plains will always be there for our patients. We will do everything in our power to ensure access for patients who need sexual and reproductive health care, including access to abortion,” Hill said. ”Oklahoma is not the first state to attempt to ban abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging several other abortion restrictions in Oklahoma, including: a ban on the use of telemedicine to provide medication abortion service; a law that forces patients to delay their abortion care for at least 72 hours after receiving certain state-mandated information; a “physician-only” law that bans certain medical professionals from providing medication abortion service; and a ban on an often-used method of abortion after approximately 14 weeks of pregnancy.
This lawsuit was filed by T.J. Tu with the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pro-bono counsel Dechert LLP, and local counsel Blake Patton of Walding & Patton PLLC. Plaintiffs in the case are Trust Women—an abortion provider with clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas—Dr. Larry Burns, and Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains—which provides abortion services in Oklahoma and Kansas.
“Legislators were called into a special session today to approve Gov. Stitt’s Catastrophic Health Emergency Act for the first time in state history,” said Tamya Cox-Touré, Regional Director of Public Policy and Organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes. “The legislature will also have to approve tapping into the Rainy Day fund to fill the $416 million revenue shortfall the state is facing. The hope still is that the Legislature will address these budget issues and adjourn.”
The judge’s decision can be read here.