Gov Asa Hutchinson
AR Gov: 'You're not going to win simply by a lockdown'
02:03 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Arkansas abortion providers and the American Civil Liberties Union are once again suing Arkansas state officials for restricting abortion access during the coronavirus pandemic, this time to keep the state from requiring abortion-seekers to first get a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours of the procedure.

“Delaying abortion care across the board for a COVID-19 test is especially unwarranted in view of Arkansas’s otherwise permissive approach to letting individuals mix and mingle in restaurants and gyms without negative COVID tests,” lawyers for the groups wrote in the lawsuit filed on Friday, referencing Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s move to reopen restaurants and gyms later this month. Restaurants will be able to open with restrictions, including being at one-third of normal capacity and groups must have fewer than 10 people.

“For women who cannot obtain access to COVID-19 NAAT testing within 48-hours of their procedures, the Directive entirely bars them from exercising their constitutional right to receive pre-viability abortion care in Arkansas,” they added.

While multiple conservative governors have looked to limit abortions during the pandemic in the name of preserving medical supplies, Friday’s challenge also comes as states including Arkansas have struggled to procure adequate testing to track the virus’ spread – an ongoing endeavor between states and the federal government as some states look to begin reopening.

The Arkansas Department of Health issued an order effective Monday updating its prior limit on elective surgeries to require that those seeking them “must have at least one negative COVID-19 NAAT test within 48 hours prior to the beginning of the procedure.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office had previously specified that such surgeries included “any type of abortion that is not immediately medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” with Rutledge promising “decisive action” for those found to violate the order.

Last week, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the block on abortions during the outbreak, despite a federal judge temporarily blocking it the week before. Lawyers for the abortion providers and ACLU asked the federal judge to again block the order before it was amended Monday.

Rutledge “stands ready to defend the Arkansas Health Department’s directive which provides reasonable standards to implement surgical abortions and other medically elective procedures,” Amanda Priest, Rutledge’s communications director, told CNN in a statement on Friday.

Rutledge “has repeatedly stated that surgical abortions do not get special treatment during a pandemic,” Priest added. “The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed when it vacated the previous order blocking Arkansas’s pandemic response measures.”

Lawyers for the abortion providers and ACLU shared the stories of several pregnant women – days away from the state cut off for an abortion, which is 21 weeks and six days since the woman’s last menstrual period – who had repeatedly tried and failed to get tested for Covid-19. The lawyers pointed to a national testing shortage and how tests that could provide results within 48 hours were available “through a limited number of biopharmaceutical companies.”

Arkansas law currently requires abortion seekers to come to abortion clinics at least 72 hours before the procedure to receive informed consent information.

Arkansas has seen more than 3,300 cases and 60 deaths from the coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Hutchinson has defended his decision not to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, saying that his “targeted approach” has proven effective. But coroners in Arkansas have struggled to procure tests to confirm deaths caused by the virus as Arkansas authorities have said that coroners have the last say in the cause of death.

CNN’s Blake Ellis, Melanie Hicken and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.