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Federal Appeals Court OKs Arkansas' Abortion Ban During Coronavirus Pandemic

A federal appeals court says Arkansas can suspend abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

As nonessential medical procedures are put on hold to help preserve medical supplies such as surgical masks and hospital gowns, Republican officials in several states including Arkansas have tried to suspend abortions. Abortion rights opponents argue that the procedure should be treated as nonessential.

Reproductive rights groups have accused Republican officials of using the crisis for political purposes. They've successfully persuaded courts to block or scale back pandemic-related abortion bans in most states, including Ohio and Alabama. Advocates point to statements from major medical groups who say the procedure is time-sensitive and shouldn't be delayed.

But now, in a reversal of a lower-court decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit says Arkansas can suspend abortions during the pandemic. In the opinion, a federal judge writes that while medication abortions using pills may continue under the state's policy, surgical abortions that are not immediately medically necessary are prohibited.

Patients also have been turned away for the procedure in states including Texas, where abortion rights advocates have been engaged in multiple rounds of legal wrangling with the state's governor and attorney general. In the aftermath of the ban in Texas, Planned Parenthood has reported a more than sevenfold increase in patients traveling to clinics in nearby states for abortions.

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