Lawsuit Challenges Stitt Executive Order Banning Abortion During COVID-19 State of Emergency

Mar 30, 2020

Credit Whitney Bryen-Oklahoma Watch

Updated March 30, 5:53 p.m.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood are Gov. Kevin Stitt’s order that abortions be delayed during the COVID-19 emergency.

The organizations filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Oklahoma naming Stitt, State Health Commissioner Gary Cox, State Emergency Manager Mark Gower, Attorney General Mike Hunter and other officials.

Stitt said Friday all forms of abortion are included in his order to delay elective surgeries and minor procedures until April 7. There are exceptions to save a patient's life or prevent serious health risks.

Stitt cited a need to preserve hospital beds and personal protective equipment for health care providers as the basis for his order.

Center for Reproductive Rights CEO Nancy Northup said Stitt’s order would force women to travel out of state, increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.

"This emergency abortion ban is a clear abuse of power and is just another way of getting around Roe v. Wade," Northup said.

Center for Reproductive Rights staff attorney Molly Duane said while the order pauses procedures until April 7, it will likely be extended as the state responds to the pandemic.

"In fact, all indications from the medical community are that this will last many weeks, if not months. And so, patients seeking essential health care services like abortion simply cannot wait weeks or months to access that essential care," Duane said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is seeking a temporary restraining order and a ruling as quickly as possible.

"[This lawsuit] attacks the governor’s executive order which preserves limited health care resources and medical safety equipment, in blatant disregard of the escalating illness and death this pandemic is inflicting on Oklahomans. 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.

This is the 11th lawsuit the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed against Oklahoma in 10 years. Other state abortion restrictions it is challenging include a ban on the use of telemedicine to provide medication abortion care, a law that forces patients to delay their abortion care for at least 72 hours after receiving certain state-mandated information and a law requiring doctors to tell patients that some abortions can be reversed — a false statement.