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Arkansas abortion ban challenged; prison virus cases spike

Arkansas

In this Sunday, April 12, 2020 photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, right, helps Arkansas National Guardsmen unload a truckload of personal protective equipment at the Federal Surplus Warehouse in Little Rock, Ark. (Tommy Metthe/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ only surgical abortion clinic asked a federal judge Monday to block the state from largely banning the procedure during the coronavirus outbreak, as 43 more state prisoners tested positive for the virus.

State health officials said the number of coronavirus cases has risen to at least 1,410. Three more people have died from the virus, bringing the state’s total deaths to 30.

ABORTION BAN CHALLENGED

Little Rock Family Planning Services challenged the state’s ban on surgical abortions days after officials sent a cease-and-desist letter to the facility.

State health officials accused the clinic of violating an order preventing elective surgeries during the outbreak. They said the order prohibits abortions that aren’t needed to protect the life or health of the mother. Other states have used similar orders to restrict abortions.

The clinic said it had more than 20 women scheduled for surgical abortions this week who would not be candidates for abortion-inducing medication that the clinic is still able to administer. In its filing, the clinic’s attorneys said many of those women may travel several hundred miles to undergo the procedure elsewhere.

“This travel will not only impose enormous logistical and financial burdens, but also increase patients’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 and the risk of infection for other Arkansas residents upon their return,” the filing said.

A spokeswoman said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was reviewing the filings and would determine the next step. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the lawsuit was not unexpected.

“We took the same action toward this clinic as we would any other clinic that was violating a directive in terms of not engaging in elective surgical procedures,” the Republican governor said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represents the clinic, asked to add the request to an ongoing lawsuit that led to three of the state’s abortion restrictions being blocked last year.

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