Linda Satter reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning on the ACLU’s latest effort on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services to lift what is effectively a ban on surgical abortions by the only provider in Arkansas.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is, as usual, fighting women’s constitutional right to an abortion. She says the abortion clinic is being treated the same as all other medical facilities cleared for elective surgical procedures last Monday. They simply must meet a set of requirements, notably a coronavirus test 48 hours before the procedure.
Bland assertions to the contrary Friday by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Health Director Nate Smith that availability and speed of testing were being ramped up in Arkansas, testing is simply not readily available, particularly for people who aren’t sick.
This reality serves as an effective ban on surgical abortions. Big deal, says Rutledge. The same rules apply to all. Yes, but contrary to her view and that of the governor, abortion isn’t a boob job. It is a medical emergency, a matter of dire necessity for many women. If a woman is unable to test, a time comes when it is too late and thus the abortion is denied forever. You can’t say the same for all other medical procedures.
The abortion provider isn’t alone in this problem. Dr. Jim Bledsoe of the Health Department (not his son, Surgeon General Gregory Bledsoe as I originally wrote) was blistered in a phone call last week with dozens of doctors from many disciplines about the difficulty of meeting the testing rule. A cynic might wonder — given the expressed views on the subject of the governor, Bledsoe and others — the state is pressing so hard on testing precisely because it achieves a ban on abortion (except for pharmaceutical ones in the earliest weeks of pregnancy.) It was reported last week that clearing the U.S. Senate for the virus was a problem because of the inability to get the testing done.
Lori Williams, director of Family Planning Sevices, filed a statement with the latest lawsuit that is instructive:
Since the State’s announcement of this new Directive, on April 24, 2020, I have been working diligently to assist my patients in obtaining COVID-19 tests and/orlocations willing and able to administer tests on asymptomatic individuals, per the April 27 Directive. I have contacted more than 15 different locations—including hospitals, urgent cares, clinics, diagnostic centers, and private laboratories—in and around Little Rock, Arkansas, but have been unable to identify a location that is (1) willing to test asymptomatic patients, and (2) able to reliably turnaround results within 48 hours. A majority of the locations I contacted will not test asymptomatic patients at all, and others cannot commit to turning around results within 48 hours.
One of the locations I contacted was the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). UAMS communicated that it will only conduct COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic patients that have surgeries scheduled at the hospital. As a result, patients scheduled to receive care at LRFP have been turned away from UAMS.
Since the April 27 Directive has taken effect, I have had to turn away 8 patients scheduled to receive surgical abortion care due to their inability to receive a COVID-19 test and/or obtain test results within 48 hours of the beginning of their procedure.
On Friday, May 1, 2020, LRFP is scheduled to provide care to three women who will soon be past the legal limit for abortion care in Arkansas: (i) one who is 20.6 weeks LMP, (ii) one who is 21.2 weeks LMP, and (iii) one who is 21.3 weeks LMP. All tried, but at least one was not able to obtain a COVID-19 test and result within 48 hours of their abortion, as the April 27 Directive requires. As of the morning of May 1, the other two are waiting results from a clinic that has previously taken more than 48 hours to return results for at least five of my other patients. LRFP has numerous other women who are approaching the 21.6 weeks LMP cut off for abortion care on its near-term schedule.
The state argues it has a health interest so significant that it is paramount to the Constitution.
Perhaps reading some of the specific cases at issue would make those who value women’s interests think otherwise, if not Leslie Rutledge and Asa Hutchinson. These are emergencies in my view.
The state’s all-out effort to punish these women by denying then a medical procedure to which they are constitutionally entitled needs also to be viewed in the context of smiley Asa Hutchinson’s recent announcements that by next week Arkansans (not dirty people from Louisiana in all cases) will be free to camp out in state parks, share a restaurant space; sweat on treadmills at the gym; get a beard trimmed; get nails done; have someone jab you with a tattoo needle, and get some gentle hands pressed on sore body regions.
Come May 18, if a prediction by Nate Smith Friday holds, dentists will be able to again stick their hands in your mouth to polish your molars. No coronavirus tests within 48 hours are to be required for any of these activities.
But should a woman receive the full rights granted her by Roe v. Wade? No sirree, sister. Not in Darkansas.