A federal judge has partially blocked Oklahoma's temporary abortion ban, allowing the procedure to resume despite the state's suspension of "non-essential" procedures, which Governor Kevin Stitt clarified to explicitly include pregnancy termination. Most abortion services in the state can resume immediately.
On Monday, Judge Goodwin, a federal judge for the United States Sixth District, granted abortion providers in Oklahoma a, effectively blocking the state's temporary ban on abortion services from continuing. In his decision, Judge Goodwin said that "the benefit to public health of the ban on medication abortions is minor and outweighed by the intrusion on Fourteenth Amendment rights caused by that ban."
"[T]he Court concludes that while the current public health emergency allows the State of Oklahoma to impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures, it has acted in an 'unreasonable,' 'arbitrary,' and 'oppressive' way-and imposed an 'undue burden' on abortion access in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion," Judge Goodwin wrote.
On March 24, Governor Stitt issued an executive order suspending all "elective surgeries and minor medical procedures" until April 7 in an effort to preserve resources for medical professionals fighting the COVID-19 outbreak. Days later, the governor clarified that the directive included "any type of abortion services... which are not a medical emergency... or otherwise necessary to prevent serious health risks" to the patient.
Since then, allservices in Oklahoma have been halted. Many patients in the state seeking the procedure said they have had to visit clinics in neighboring states instead.
According to the court order, beginning Monday afternoon patients seeking a medication abortion, a pregnancy termination method delivered by pill, can resume. Additionally, any patient "who will lose her right to lawfully obtain an abortion in Oklahoma on or before the date of expiration of the Executive Order" can also obtain an abortion.
"The court has stopped Governor Stitt from exploiting this devastating pandemic as a weapon in his battle to ban abortion," said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement to CBS News on Monday. "Abortion is time-sensitive, essential healthcare. Women in Oklahoma are again able, for the time being, to access abortion care in their state at a time when travel is even more challenging."