An Oklahoma federal judge blocked a state executive order on Monday limiting abortion access during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – a win for abortion rights advocates who have challenged similar orders with mixed results.
US District Judge Charles Goodwin wrote “that while the current public health emergency allows the State of Oklahoma to impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures, it 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.”
Several states’ officials opted to include elective abortions in limiting medical procedures during the coronavirus outbreak, pointing to the need to conserve personal protective equipment, while abortion rights supporters have disparaged the move as politically motivated.
Many of the court battles have a potentially long future ahead of them. Federal judges in Texas, Ohio and Alabama moved last week to block those states’ orders limiting elective abortions. While an appeals court then reversed course and temporarily allowed the Texas order to go into effect, another appeals court on Monday affirmed the lower court’s ruling blocking Ohio’s order.
In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order in March that he later confirmed applied to “any type of abortion services” that are not a medical emergency or necessary to “prevent serious health risks” to the woman.
In the order Monday, Goodwin cited evidence that medication abortion, a type of abortion typically involving taking two pills without any surgical intervention that would have been included in the ban, “is safer and requires less interpersonal contact and PPE than surgical abortion.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that he was “very disappointed” by Monday’s court order, with his office confirming the state plans to immediately appeal it to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Excluding abortions from the order “may encourage a flood of other judicially conjured exceptions, completely undermining the state’s ability to combat the worst public health crisis in Oklahoma history,” he said.
Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said that while the ruling was a relief for patients, “they should have never had to wait for a judge to rule before accessing the time-sensitive care they needed.”
She accused Stitt of “wasting valuable time and resources using the COVID-19 pandemic to score political points.”
CNN has reached out to Stitt’s office for comment.