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Majority of abortion services in Ohio can continue, judges rule

The majority of abortion services in Ohio will be allowed to continue amid the coronavirus outbreak, a three-judge panel ruled on Monday. Last month, Ohio became the first to interpret a state directive suspending "non-essential" surgeries to include pregnancy termination, an action that's been copied by a handful of traditionally anti-abortion rights states across the South and Midwest. 

A ruling from the United States Sixth Court of Appeals for the Sixth District on Monday denied Ohio's request to reverse a lower court's decision which allows some methods of abortion to continue but temporarily halts others. According to the district's court order, medication abortion, which is available through 10 weeks into a pregnancy, can continue. For surgical abortion, the court agreed with the lower court that it's the responsibility of the physician to determine whether the procedure is "medically indicated and cannot be delayed, based on the timing of pre-viability or other medical conditions."

In other words, the lower court's ruling gives the responsibility to doctors, not state officials, to determine whether or not abortion is "essential" and "time-sensitive." 

Planned Parenthood, which has affiliates who provide abortion services in Ohio and whose legal arm is challenging the state's temporary ban, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, the district court on Monday clarified that the lower court's decision should not be interpreted as a green-light to allow all abortion services to continue. The judges — Chief Judge R. Guy Cole, Jr., Senior Judge Ralph B. Guy, Jr. and Judge John K. Bush — wrote that physicians may not provide "surgical abortions if they can induce the same abortion medicinally or perform abortions that can be delayed without jeopardizing the mother's health, life, or ability to exercise her Fourteenth Amendment right to a pre-viability abortion."

Bethany McCorkle, a spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, interpreted the ruling to mean that the court "rejected the abortion providers' argument that every surgical abortion is medically necessary." Additionally, McCorkle believed the court's decision allows her office to enforce actions against any physician that "performs a surgical abortion that could have been safely postponed or performed with medication."

"That is a win in every respect that matters," McCorkle said in an email to CBS News on Monday.

In late March, Ohio became the first state to suspend abortion access amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, Alabama, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas have followed, and all face legal challenges over those directives.

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