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Three more states face legal action over coronavirus abortion bans

Hundreds of women caught up in abortion bans
Hundreds of women caught up in abortion bans amid coronavirus pandemic 02:21

In the latest sweep of legal filings, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee now face legal challenges over attempts to ban abortion services amid the coronavirus pandemic. Officials claim the suspension of services is an attempt to preserve medical resources, but abortion rights supporters accuse states of exploiting the public health crisis to achieve a decades-long goal: banning abortion.

In a span of fewer than 24 hours, three new lawsuits were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood, requesting federal courts to block states from including abortion in directives temporarily halting "non-essential" medical procedure. Eight states have now been sued over similar orders: Arkansas, Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

"This is a shameful abuse of power," Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement to CBS News on Tuesday.

Abortion rights supporters, including Northup, don't see the recent wave of coronavirus-related bans any differently than the many other restrictions that similar states have levied on abortion services. Indeed, every state that has attempted to restrict the procedure amid the pandemic is considered to be "hostile" toward abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research organization. Many states with similar directives restricting "non-essential" medical procedures have not included abortion services in those orders.

"It's just another version of all those other restrictions," Northup said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.

Major medical associations side with abortion rights supporters. The American Medical Association has accused states of "exploiting" the pandemic to restrict the procedure. In response to the bans, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called out abortion as an "essential component of comprehensive healthcare."

A spokesperson for the Attorney General of Louisiana said the office had not yet been served and had no comment. Emails to the Attorneys General of Tennessee and Arkansas were not immediately returned.

So far, courts have mostly sided with abortion rights supporters, allowing the procedure to resume despite state bans. On Monday, federal appeals courts ruled that medication abortion services in Oklahoma and Texas could resume, as well as procedures for patients who would be outside the legal gestational limit once the bans were scheduled to lift.

Up until today, the vast majority of abortion services had been unavailable in Texas since March 23. It's the first time that's happened in a state in nearly 50 years -- when Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure. Beginning Tuesday, most abortion services will again be available to patients. Similar rulings have allowed abortion to continue in Alabama, Iowa, and Ohio.

Louisiana is already at the center of a high-profile lawsuit that could potentially shutter all of the state's providers. In early March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo, a case challenging a state abortion restriction that, if upheld, could close all three of Louisiana's clinics that provide abortion.

A decision on that case is expected this summer.

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