Judge: Alabama can't prohibit abortion during pandemic

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal judge on Sunday ruled that Alabama cannot ban abortions as part of the state’s response to coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a preliminary injunction sought by clinics to prevent the state from forbidding abortions as part of a ban on elective medical procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thompson said abortion providers can decide whether a procedure can wait.

“Based on the current record, the defendants’ efforts to combat COVID-19 do not outweigh the lasting harm imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to terminate her pregnancy, by an undue burden or increase in risk on patients imposed by a delayed procedure, or by the cloud of unwarranted prosecution against providers,” Thompson wrote in an opinion.

The ruling was a victory for abortion rights advocates who are fighting efforts in Texas, Ohio, Alabama and other states to prohibit abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic. States have argued they need to conserve medical equipment and potential hospital beds during the pandemic.

Abortion clinics in Alabama said they sought the injunction after the state refused to clarify that the clinics could continue to operate.

Alabama had ordered a postponement of medical procedures except in cases of a medical emergency or “to avoid serious harm from an underlying condition or disease, or necessary as part of a patient’s ongoing and active treatment.”

A lawyer representing clinics praised the decision.

“Preventing someone from getting an abortion doesn’t do anything to stop the COVID-19 virus, it just takes the decision whether to have a child out of their hands,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

The Alabama attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Similar legal fights over abortions during the pandemic are ongoing in Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma.

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