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States facing legal challenges over abortion bans amid coronavirus pandemic

In a sweep of legal filings on Monday, a coalition of abortion rights advocates brought challenges in four states — Alabama, Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma — over directives to temporarily ban the procedure amid the coronavirus outbreak. So far, federal courts have ruled that Alabama and Ohio can't prevent abortions during the pandemic, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

State officials claim that the orders are intended to preserve much-needed medical resources, but abortion-rights activists say the orders are an "excuse to attack essential, time-sensitive medical procedures like abortion."

The organizations, which include Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, asked district courts across the South and Midwest to block states from halting abortion services as part of directives to suspend "non-essential" medical procedures.

Last week, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights also filed litigation against Texas for its temporary halt on all abortion services "not medically necessary to preserve the life or health" of the patient. Those in violation of the state's order face "penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time."

"We cannot let anti-abortion activists dictate public health policy. A global pandemic is not an excuse to attack essential, time-sensitive medical procedures like abortion," said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "These political distractions cost valuable time and resources that our state and federal officials cannot afford to waste. Abortion is essential and patients who need this care cannot wait. This is what it's come down to: court battles just so doctors and nurses can care for patients during a public health crisis. Anti-abortion activists have gone too far."

Ohio Attorney General David Yost denied the state's suspension of abortion services was political, in a statement shared with CBS News.

"The state of Ohio's overriding interest is to save lives in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency. That's the only reason for the Health Department's order," Yost said. "After consultation with the experts at the Ohio Department of Health, the state of Ohio will take the course of action that will most quickly achieve that goal — be it an emergency appeal, a trial on the preliminary injunction, a more specifically drawn order, or other remedy."

Attorneys General for Alabama, Iowa and Oklahoma did not immediately return emails requesting comment.

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