Mike Hunter

Hunter said once courts reopen, he expects a surge in litigation continuing into the foreseeable future and certainly into the next fiscal year. /The Oklahoman file

OKLAHOMA CITY — Attorney General Mike Hunter late Tuesday appealed a lower court’s temporary restraining order that allowed abortions to continue during a health emergency.

Hunter filed the appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit seeking a stay of the temporary restraining order.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order that put on hold elective and minor medical procedures. He later clarified that to include abortion, except for medical emergencies or to prevent serious health risks to the unborn child’s mother.

The order was designed to preserve personal protective equipment.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and other abortion rights organizations obtained a temporary restraining order on Monday from a federal judge in Oklahoma City.

“As set forth below, the court concludes that while the current public health emergency allows the state of Oklahoma to impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures, it has acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary’ and ‘oppressive’ way — and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access — in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion,” U.S. District Judge Charles Goodwin wrote in his temporary restraining order.

Hunter’s brief said the action undermines the state’s ability to manage the pandemic.

The medical restriction would delay the travel of patients and reduce interpersonal contact, the brief said.

It would also reduce the demand on hospital resources as surgical abortions have a risk of hemorrhage, infection, cervical laceration, uterine perforation and death, the brief said.

“The district court abused its discretion in granting a partial TRO (temporary restraining order) that engrafted new exceptions for abortion to the Governor’s elective procedure EO (executive order),” the brief said.

Women seeking an abortion who would not be eligible after the expiration date of the executive order are only a fraction of the abortion-seeking population, according to the brief.

“The irreparable harm faced by Oklahoma during this pandemic, and the public interest in enforcing all measures to ‘flatten the curve,’ outweigh any burdens to abortion access,” according to the brief.

A single procedure may not cripple the state’s ability to flatten the curve, but the cumulative effect of all elective procedures would undermine the strategy needed to protect the public, the brief said.

A panel of judges at the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by a lower court that blocked a similar abortion ban in Texas last week. The ruling allows the ban to stay in place pending further legal arguments.

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Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465


Twitter: @bhoberock

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