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Federal judge blocks Alabama from prohibiting abortions during outbreak

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A federal judge late Monday issued a temporary restraining order, allowing Alabama abortion clinics to continue operating despite a state order that effectively restricted access to abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s temporary restraining order will last until April 13 at 5 p.m.

“Despite the serious conditions described by defendants and the dire need for medical equipment across the United States, the benefits of some potential increase in the availability of equipment (some of which may be ill-suited to the task of disease containment) do not outweigh the serious, and, in some cases, permanent, harms imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to privacy,” Thompson wrote in the order. 

Thompson’s ruling came after the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama earlier on Monday asked the court to intervene, arguing that Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris’s March 27 public health order banned abortions, despite the court’s previous ruling blocking the state’s near-total ban on abortions.

Thompson’s ruling came after similar rulings by federal judges in both Ohio and Texas, who issued restraining orders Monday evening lifting restrictions on access to abortions.

Without the court’s injunction, the groups told the court in the filing that more than 20 abortions in Alabama would have had to be canceled this week, including one for a woman “who will be pushed past the legal limit for abortion in Alabama if she does not obtain an abortion this week.”

Harris’s March 27 order prohibits any medical or surgical procedure except those necessary to treat an “emergency medical condition” or to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition.”

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Attorney General Steve Marshall took the position that the March 27 order prohibits abortions.

“Per the order, we are unable to provide you with a blanket affirmation that abortions will, in every case, fall within one of the exemptions,” wrote Katherine Robertson, chief counsel in the Alabama Attorney General’s office, in response to a request for clarification from the ACLU before the suit was filed.

Before the judge issued the restraining order, the attorney general responded to ACLU’s court filing, saying, “Put simply, no provider or clinic is excused from compliance with this order.”

The attorney general on Monday also joined 14 other Republican attorneys generals attorneys in their court battles over similar prohibitions. Federal judges in Ohio and Texas have also issued restraining orders barring the states from prohibiting abortions.


Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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