Indiana restricting abortion clinics during pandemic

As Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order Monday that includes banning “elective and non-urgent” procedures at abortion clinics in Indiana during the COVID-19 emergency, federal judges were blocking similar measures in other states.

The executive order from Holcomb includes several provisions targeting the anticipated surge in coronavirus patients. In particular, the order suspends licensing requirements in order to allow the establishment of temporary facilities for patient care if the need exceeds hospital capacity and to enable retired and out-of-state health care providers as well as medical students to provide services.

Also, the order also includes a measure to preserve the personal protective equipment health care workers need, especially when caring for COVID-19 infected patients. The governor has directed a variety of health care facilities including ambulatory surgical centers, dental facilities and abortion clinics to “cancel or postpone elective and non-urgent surgical or invasive procedures.”

In the order, “elective and non-urgent” was defined as “any surgery or invasive procedure which can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of the patient”.

Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the nonprofit was doing its part to conserve resources and protect the health of its patients and staff.

“Planned Parenthood’s top priority is ensuring that every person can continue accessing essential health care, including abortion,” Charbonneau said in a statement. “Medical experts recognize that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure. We are complying with the Governor’s Directive, which requires health care providers to stop providing surgeries or invasive procedures that are non-urgent as determined by their medical provider.”

Executive orders banning abortion during the outbreak from the governors of Texas, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma and Iowa are being challenged in the federal courts, according to the Associated Press. Already, district court judges in Texas and Alabama have blocked those states from enforcing bans.

The ruling came down after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said abortion was included in a statewide ban on nonessential surgeries.

But U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the “Supreme Court has spoken clearly” on a woman’s right to abortion. One abortion provider in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health, said it had canceled more than 150 appointments in the days after the Texas order went into effect.

“There can be no outright ban on such a procedure,” Yeakel wrote. Paxton said the state would appeal.

Lawsuits against Iowa and Oklahoma have been filed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and local attorneys in each state.

Like Indiana, Oklahoma said the ban was needed to help preserve the state’s limited supply of personal protective equipment including surgical masks and gloves. Also, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter asserted the legal action will harm the state’s residents during the pandemic.

“My office will vigorously defend the governor’s executive order and the necessity to give precedence to essential medical procedures during this daunting public health crisis,” Hunter said in a statement. “Make no mistake, this lawsuit will itself drain significant resources, medical and legal, from emergency efforts, and likely, directly and indirectly bring harm to Oklahomans as a result.”

In issuing a temporary restraining order against Alabama, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote the state’s concerns about conserving medical equipment during the pandemic does not “outweigh the serious, and, in some cases, permanent, harms imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to privacy.”

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