LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arkansas, law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, and Little Rock lawyer Bettina Brownstein took emergency legal action today on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services and its patients to prevent the state from using the guise of the COVID-19 crisis to prevent people from obtaining abortion care.

Arkansas is one of several states that has attempted to severely restrict access to or entirely ban abortion during the COVID-19 crisis. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights have gone to court in several states and have already secured orders barring the states from preventing people from accessing abortions in Alabama, Ohio, and Oklahoma. In Texas, however, most abortions are currently prohibited, and providers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis.

Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic. Both groups filed an amicus brief in the Texas case, noting that barring abortions “is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.”

“We must all do our part to stop this public health crisis, but the government’s response must be grounded in science and public health, not politics,” said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “As leading medical experts have recognized, abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care and Arkansas’ attempt to prevent patients from accessing abortion care does nothing to protect people from the virus. It just stops people from getting this essential care and forces them to continue their pregnancies against their will which requires substantially more health care resources.”

Arkansas’ move to block abortion access comes even as the state allows other medical providers to exercise their independent professional judgment and provide care to patients that cannot be safely postponed, including orthodontists who are permitted to schedule visits to adjust wires on patients’ braces, and dentists who can see patients for a cracked tooth. 

“Arkansas politicians have been trying to restrict and ban access to abortion for years — passing no fewer than 12 abortion restrictions in 2019 alone,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director at the ACLU of Arkansas. “This latest orchestrated attack has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with politicians using the pandemic to violate the constitution and further their extreme agenda.”

“As health care professionals, the health and safety of our patients is our foremost concern, and we are committed to doing everything we can to protect them, our staff, and our community while providing access to essential health care,” said Lori Williams, clinical director at Little Rock Family Planning Services. “Even during a pandemic, pregnant people require health care — whether it is abortion care or prenatal care and childbirth services — and that care cannot be delayed until after the crisis is over.”