Courts Reject Tennessee Governor’s Order to Cease Elective Abortions Due to Coronavirus

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NASHVILLE (BP) — Abortion rights organizations have the upper hand so far in their legal challenge to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s order postponing elective medical procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A divided panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld April 24 a federal judge’s preliminary injunction blocking abortion procedures from being included in Lee’s order. The state has asked the full Sixth Circuit panel to reconsider the decision. Under the governor’s order, however, elective procedures will resume May 1.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) had urged the Sixth Circuit to reverse the lower court’s ruling and restore elective abortion in Lee’s postponement of nonessential procedures. In an April 23 friend-of-the-court brief, the ERLC said Tennessee’s need to combat the coronavirus pandemic meant the governor’s order did not impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion.

The ERLC expressed dismay over the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

“While everyone else wants to save lives, the abortion industry in Tennessee wants to continue profiting by ending life,” ERLC Chief of Staff Brent Leatherwood said in written comments. “Women and families deserve access to medical care, especially during a pandemic, but abortion clinics don’t provide that.

“In fact, they place women in danger, as is evident in the stories of the Supreme Court case June Medical Services v. Russo,” Leatherwood said in reference to a case from Louisiana still before the high court. “Governor Bill Lee and the State of Tennessee were right to pause all nonessential medical procedures to conserve equipment. It’s difficult to think of a procedure more nonessential than one that takes a human life.”

Lee was one of several governors to include abortion among elective medical procedures delayed in the effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to free personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider, and other abortion rights organizations have challenged such orders and, in some cases, refused to abide by them. Other states have exempted abortions from orders suspending nonessential procedures.

A divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned a federal judge’s opinion that removed all abortions from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order postponing nonessential procedures through April 21. In other cases, courts have rejected similar state orders that included abortions among nonessential procedures.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit against Lee’s order, and Bernard Friedman — a federal judge in Michigan — ruled in their favor April 17.

In his opinion, Friedman described abortion as “a time-sensitive procedure” that could result in “progressively greater health risks” or the loss of the right to the procedure if delayed, according to The Tennessean.

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Source: Baptist Press