COVID-19 safety precautions have become the backdrop for the latest abortion arguments in Arkansas. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services, filed a lawsuit Monday contesting a cease and desist order issued by the state last week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the state's order for the clinic to stop performing surgical abortions is in line with directives given to all healthcare organizations as part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"We took the same action toward this clinic as we would any other clinic that was violating a directive in terms of not engaging in elective surgical procedures." Hutchinson said Monday during his daily press briefing.
He added that not all abortions have been ordered to stop.
"Of course, the line of distinction was between medication abortions and surgical abortions, and there was a distinction made in the directive in that regard."
Bettina Brownstein, one of the lawyers for the ACLU, says the state is unjustly targeting the clinic, which is the only one in Arkansas that performs surgical abortions.
"Little Rock Family Planning is the only healthcare provider that is not being allowed to exercise its own independent, good-faith medical judgment as to when it is necessary to proceed with a procedure. Whereas it appears that all other providers in Arkansas are being afforded that right," she said.
The ACLU notes that orthodontists are still being allowed to tighten braces and dentists are still allowed to see patients with cracked teeth. Brownstein says the governor’s argument is not supported by the country’s leading medical organizations.
"No medical justification," she said. "There's no justification in view of this pandemic crisis. The only apparent justification for this is political."
The ACLU has asked the court for an expedited ruling, arguing that women will be forced to travel to Louisiana or Illinois for surgical abortions unless the Little Rock clinic is allowed continue to provide them.