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State virus cases near 1000; fight over abortion clinics in court

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Alabama neared 1,000 on Monday as reported deaths continued to climb and a federal judge ruled the state could not prohibit abortions during the outbreak.

Total COVID-19 infections in Alabama stood near 950 late Monday, the state Department of Public Health reported. The official death count stood at six, but the tally did not include most of the seven deaths reported by the East Alabama Medical Center, a hospital in Opelika.

The hospital said Sunday that only one of the deaths was included in the state total and the rest were being submitted to an official state process. The Department of Public Health said in a statement that a department physician reviews the records of COVID-19 patients to determine whether a death should be attributed to the virus.

Johns Hopkins University listed Alabama’s death count as 10 on Monday.

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A federal judge on Monday granted a temporary restraining order to prevent Alabama from shutting down abortion clinics as a nonessential medical service during the outbreak. Alabama had ordered a postponement of medical procedures except in cases of a medical emergency or “to avoid serious harm from an underlying condition or disease, or necessary as part of a patient’s ongoing and active treatment.” Abortion clinics said they went to court after the state refused to clarify that the clinics could continue to operate.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote that the state’s concerns about conserving medical equipment during the pandemic does not “outweigh the serious, and, in some cases, permanent, harms imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to privacy.”

“Because Alabama law imposes time limits on when women can obtain abortions, the (state) order is likely to fully prevent some women from exercising their right to obtain an abortion,” Thompson wrote.

Lawyers said the clinics had already been forced to cancel appointments for 17 patients, leaving patients in tears, and faced the prospect of cancelling, or turning away, hundreds more.

Thompson said the temporary restraining order shall last through April 13 while he considers additional arguments from the state and clinics.

“Preventing them from getting an abortion doesn’t do anything to stop the COVID-19 virus, it just takes the decision whether to have a child out of their hands,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, in a statement.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Monday that the state would not offer a “blanket exemption” to clinics.

“Put simply, no provider or clinic is excused from compliance with this order,” Steve Marshall said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday repeated the call for people to stay home.

“These are uncertain times for sure. So now, and for the foreseeable future, please, please consider staying safe at home,” Ivey said in a video message released by her office.

The state health order closed businesses such as gyms, barber shops, theaters, casinos, bookstores, department stores, clothing stores and nail salons. Grocery stores, restaurants offering take-out and manufacturing plants are not included.

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