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Politics & Policy

Judge Upholds Arkansas Policy Requiring COVID-19 Test before Abortion

A woman receives an ultrasound during a prenatal exam. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

A federal judge has upheld a policy in Arkansas that requires women to obtain a negative test for COVID-19 before undergoing an abortion procedure. The ACLU and the sole abortion clinic in Arkansas sued the state over the regulation, arguing that it violates women’s constitutional right to abortion.

The judge, Brian Miller, said that the decision was “agonizingly difficult” because the policy limits individual liberty, but he concluded that the context of the global health crisis made the rule reasonable as a matter of protecting public health.

In an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Arkansas instituted this rule to require that women obtain a test for the disease, and test negative, within 48 hours of having an abortion. The abortion clinic claimed that women who couldn’t access tests were being unfairly prevented from getting an abortion. Arkansas had also instituted a policy limiting elective abortions, as part of a wider prohibition on elective procedures, but that restriction was eased last week.

As Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge pointed out, the policy requiring a negative COVID-19 test for women seeking abortion was merely one part of a broader state policy requiring negative test results for anyone who wants to obtain any kind of elective procedure. In essence, the abortion clinic was suing for an exemption to a broad policy aimed at limiting the spread of disease, not targeting abortion.

Here’s how an ACLU attorney responded to the judge’s decision to uphold the policy: “People cannot pause their pregnancies, and this politically motivated restriction is already pushing care out of reach.”

Only a radical abortion-rights activist would call such a policy — imposing the same testing rule on a wide variety of procedures in addition to abortion — a “politically motivated restriction.” As abortion-advocacy groups have demonstrated several times throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, public health matters little to them. All that really matters is protecting abortion providers’ ability to continue profiting from abortion, regardless of the health crisis.

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