A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked a statewide order prohibiting procedural abortions in Tennessee during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Abortion is a time-sensitive procedure. Delaying a woman’s access to abortion even by a matter of days can result in her having to undergo a lengthier and more complex procedure that involves progressively greater health risks, or can result in her losing the right to obtain an abortion altogether,” US District Judge Bernard Friedman wrote in an opinion issued Friday evening.
Friedman’s ruling, a win for abortion rights advocates, essentially allows procedural abortions to continue in the state.
Following the judge’s decision, defendants Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and other state officials filed a motion of appeal on Friday.
CNN has reached out to Lee’s office for comment. Slatery’s office did not have any further comment when reached by CNN on Saturday.
On April 8, Lee, a Republican, issued an executive order, limiting access to non-emergency healthcare procedures, including abortions, in Tennessee through the end of the month. The order said it was aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19.
Republican governors in other states, including Texas, Ohio and Alabama, have issued similar orders, including abortion among the list of nonessential medical procedures that should be postponed or canceled during the pandemic, leading abortion rights advocates and reproductive health care providers to file lawsuits. State officials point to the need to conserve personal protective equipment as coronavirus cases climb, while abortion rights supporters criticize the move as politically motivated.
In an April 10 letter to health care providers, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey wrote that Lee’s order prevents “unnecessary use” of personal protective equipment “that are in extremely short supply, especially N95 masks,” according to court documents.
Her letter stated that “failure to comply” with the order is a “Class A misdemeanor and may result in possible disciplinary action by your respective board.”
Lee’s order prompted several Tennessee reproductive healthcare providers to file a motion on April 13, seeking a temporary restraining order.
In his opinion, Friedman wrote that the defendants didn’t present any evidence that “any appreciable amount” of PPE would be saved if Lee’s executive order continued to apply to abortions.
He wrote that the plaintiffs, who include Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi and the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, proved that they’ve taken steps to minimize the use of PPE and do not use N95 masks that are needed to fight the coronavirus, and showed that a procedural abortion uses less PPE and involves less patient interaction than giving birth.
Plaintiffs also argued that if the executive order is kept in place, women would travel out of state to have an abortion, risking exposure and spread of Covid-19 when they returned to Tennessee.
Plaintiffs said that procedural abortions made up about 50% to 60% of the abortions they performed last year and/or this year, according to the judge. They argued that Lee’s executive order could be extended beyond April 30, which the defendants did not contest, the judge wrote.
“The court’s decision today ensures that women in Tennessee can continue to make their own decisions about pregnancy and parenting based on what is best for their families,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, a plaintiff, said in a statement issued Friday.
“Especially during a pandemic, it is crucial that women have access to a full range of health services, including abortion, to ensure their health and well-being,” she added.
This story have been updated with additional reporting Saturday.
CNN’s Caroline Kelly and Alta Spells contributed to this report.