LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal court issued a ruling today blocking Arkansas from using the guise of the COVID-19 crisis to prevent people from obtaining abortion care. The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arkansas, the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, and Little Rock lawyer Bettina Brownstein on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services.

Arkansas is one of several states that has attempted to severely restrict access to or entirely ban abortion during the COVID-19 crisis. It now joins Alabama, Ohio, and Oklahoma in having those attempts blocked by courts in response to litigation from the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“With this order, the court has ensured that essential, time-sensitive health care can continue, and rebuffed Arkansas’ attempts to restrict access to abortion,” said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “As leading medical experts have recognized, Arkansas’ and other states’ attempts to prevent patients from accessing abortion care does nothing to protect people from the virus. It just stops people from getting 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.  

“We are pleased that the court blocked this latest attempt by Arkansas to restrict abortion access,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director at the ACLU of Arkansas. “The state’s action had nothing to do with public health, and everything to do with politicians using the pandemic as an excuse to violate the constitution and further their extreme agenda.”

Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic. Both groups filed an amicus brief, 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.”

“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.”