LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday rejected a request by Arkansas' only surgical abortion clinic to block a rule requiring a negative coronavirus test before a woman undergoes the procedure.
U.S. District Judge Brian Miller rejected the motion to prevent the state from enforcing the requirement on three women nearing Arkansas' limit on when abortions can be performed. Arkansas bans abortions 20 weeks into a woman's pregnancy.
Little Rock Family Planning Services had been prohibited from performing abortions under a rule that banned elective procedures during the coronavirus pandemic. That ban has been eased, but the state requires a negative coronavirus test within 48 hours of the procedure.
The clinic said a lack of widespread testing meant the rule was preventing women from getting an abortion. The clinic said it had performed four abortions last week after the elective surgeries ban was lifted.
In the lawsuit, the clinic said it contacted more than 15 testing locations but has been unable to find one that will test asymptomatic people and that's able to have results within 48 hours.
“People cannot pause their pregnancies, and this politically-motivated restriction is already pushing care out of reach," Holly Dickson, legal director and interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represented the clinic. “This ruling will extend that harm.”
The state argued the clinic was simply being required to follow the same rule as other health providers for elective procedures.
“Today’s decision ensures that there are no exemptions for surgical abortions during this pandemic,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said. “Arkansas’s reasonable directive sets standards to protect the health and safety of patients, healthcare professionals, and the public during the COVID-19 emergency.”
In his ruling, Miller called the requirement reasonable, “given the health crisis facing the world, the country and the state." But the federal judge called the decision “agonizingly difficult" because of the questions it presented about individual liberties and the state's power to protect the public's health, and because of the difficult circumstances the women faced.