March 30, 2020 / 6:23 PM / 2 months ago

Abortion providers in Ohio aim to block coronavirus-related curbs

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds up an abortion flag outside of the U.S. Supreme Court as justices hear a major abortion case on the legality of a Republican-backed Louisiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Abortion providers across Ohio on Monday asked a federal court to block state officials from curbing abortions as part of an order canceling “non-essential” surgeries and procedures during the coronavirus crisis.

The abortion clinics told U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in Cincinnati that they fear being immediately shut down and prosecuted if they do not stop providing surgical abortions. Such a ban, they said, would violate the right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution recognized in a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.

“Some of these patients will be forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will and at risk to their health amidst a health system overburdened by responding to COVID-19,” the clinics said in a legal filing, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

The legal action in Ohio follows a similar move last week in Texas, where abortion providers sued after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, announced that abortion was covered by a state order requiring the postponement of non-urgent medical procedures.

That order forced the cancellation of scores of appointments for abortions across Texas and undermined the ability of clinics to provide the surgical procedure and abortion pills.

The abortion clash in Ohio began after the state’s health department on March 17 ordered elective and non-essential surgeries canceled to preserve hospital resources and protective equipment as part of its coronavirus response.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, sent letters to some abortion clinics ordering them to stop performing surgical abortions and health department inspectors visited several clinics, the clinics said in their legal filing.

Numerous Republican-backed states have pursued abortion restrictions in recent years. Abortion rights advocates have criticized the latest moves as opportunism during the pandemic.

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