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Judge calls off hearing as Arkansas is poised to ease restrictions on elective abortions

by | Apr 24, 2020

By Dave Andrusko

Judge Kristine Baker

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker has cancelled a hearing to hear the challenge brought by Little Rock Family Planning Services against the state’s temporary ban on surgical abortions, a part of Arkansas’ campaign to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The abortion clinic made the request, John Moritz reported, saying “in a court filing that the announcement Wednesday by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that the Health Department would lift its ban on elective surgical procedures starting Monday had potentially made the matter moot.”

According to Moritz

Health Secretary Nate Smith told reporters at the governor’s daily briefing Wednesday that all medical procedures resuming on Monday will have to be done following certain guidelines, including that the patient must be tested ahead of time for the coronavirus. Asked specifically if that meant that surgical abortions would be allowed to resume, Smith suggested that decision would be left with the clinic.

“I think that will really depend on what the facility decides to do in terms of whether they can comply with these points in the directive,” Smith said Wednesday. Little Rock Family Planning Services is one of two abortion providers in the state, and the only one that performs surgical procedures.

Smith saidhealth providers will still have to meet certain guidelines to perform elective procedures,” Scott Carroll reported. “Patients cannot be showing symptoms of COVID-19 and must have been tested for the virus within 48 hours of the procedure. Procedures that require overnight care at a health facility will still not be allowed.” The exact guidelines were spelled out today. The guidelines take effect April 27.

Arkansas Gov.
Asa Hutchinson

Yesterday NRL News Today reported that in laying out exceptions to the general ongoing postponement of all surgeries and procedures that are not medically necessary, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s new Executive Order allows surgical abortions provided the abortion clinic “will reserve at least 25% of its hospital capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, accounting for the range of clinical severity of COVID-19 patients” and “that it will not request any personal protective equipment from any public source, whether federal, state, or local, for the duration of the COVID-19 disaster.

The cancellation of today’s hearing before Judge Baker is the latest twist in an ongoing debate. As recently as Wednesday (as NRL News Today reported), a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved Judge Baker’s temporary restraining order that had created “an exemption for surgical abortions from the Arkansas Department of Health’s April 3, 2020 directive mandating that all non-medically necessary surgeries be postponed while the COVID-19 emergency is ongoing,” as Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge characterized the decision.

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