UPDATE: AG office responds to suit to allow accessible abortion in West Virginia

West Virginia
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UPDATE: APRIL 25, 5:45 P.M.: Curtis Johnson, press secretary with the West Virginia Office of the Attorney General, says the office “will review the plaintiff’s filing and respond at the appropriate time.

“The governor’s executive order is broad based and has applied to all elective procedures at all hospitals and clinics in the interest of conserving medical equipment and limiting exposure to COVID-19 as the Governor sought to bolster the state’s response to a pandemic that has now killed more than 50,000 nationwide,” he says.

“These are uncharted times that have required unprecedented precautions, many that have devastated our economy, and this prohibition is broadly and evenly intended to apply to all procedures.”

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia and the law firm of WilmerHale filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia to keep the state from preventing West Virginia residents from obtaining abortion care.

According to a statement sent to 13 News, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology have said that abortion is a time-sensitive, essential medical procedure that cannot be delayed.

“Government response to the spread of COVID-19 must be grounded in science and public health, not politics,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “As leading medical experts have recognized, abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care and West Virginia’s attempts to prevent patients from accessing abortion care do nothing to protect people from the virus. It just stops people from getting this essential care.”

The suit states the state’s interpretation of Gov. Jim Justice’s Executive Order halting non-essential medical procedures forces is forcing the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia “to stop providing abortions unless the patient is at or near the legal limit for medication abortion in the state or at or near the point after which the patient could not obtain any abortion in the state.”

“As a result, the Order is inflicting immediate and irreparable harm on Plaintiff’spatients by violating their constitutional rights, increasing risks to their health, imposing economic burdens, threatening their overall well-being, and forcing them to continue their pregnancies against their will,” the suit states in part.

The suit goes on to say preventing residents from obtaining safe abotions during the COVID-19 pandemic increases the need for medical care.

“Forcing patients to remain pregnant against their will forces them to have vastly more contact with the health care system,” the suit states in part. “It therefore increases their risk of exposure to the virus and causes greater demand for medical personnel and equipment—in both the near and long term—than would be the case if these patients could access the abortion care they seek in a timely manner.”

This litigation brings the number of states in which abortion clinics have sued to allow abortion access during the COVID-19 crisis to nine, joining Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas.

“We need officials who are 100 percent focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and keeping people safe from it,” said Joseph Cohen, executive director, ACLU of West Virginia. “Instead, our state is cynically exploiting this crisis to push a radical political agenda. It’s unconscionable and it’s dangerous.”

“As health care professionals, we put our patient’s health and safety first, and we are committed to doing everything we can to protect them, our staff, and our community while providing access to essential health care,” said Katie Quinonez, executive director, Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the plaintiff in the case. “Even during a pandemic, pregnant people require health care — whether it is abortion care or prenatal care and childbirth services — and that care cannot be delayed until after the crisis is over.”

The complaint can be read here. The motion for emergency relief can be read here.

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