Eighth Circuit court upholds Arkansas policy limiting surgical abortions

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Pro-choice activists protest outside the US supreme court in Washington in March. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

After a federal judge earlier this month blocked the state of Arkansas’ policy to restrict abortions as elective procedures, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals determined on April 22 that the state does have the ability to restrict most surgical abortions as part of its prohibition on elective procedures during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The opinion from the Eighth Circuit states that the federal judge in question had “usurped the functions of the state government by second-guessing the state’s policy choices” and noted that Arkansas was within its rights to limit surgical abortions as part of its wider effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus and preserve medical supplies for medically necessary procedures and emergencies.

As has been the case with many similar state policies enacted since mid-March, the Arkansas ban on unnecessary procedures was challenged by a provider of abortions, which brought the matter to federal court, seeking an injunction against the policy.

Earlier this week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Texas in a similar case, allowing the state’s restriction on unnecessary procedures to include both surgical abortions and medication abortions, the latter of which are performed earlier in pregnancy. In the case of Arkansas, courts have ruled that the prohibition on surgical abortions may stand, but the prohibition on medication abortions may not.

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