Abortion Health

Abortion Providers in Texas Turn to District Courts for Abortion Ban Exemptions

Texas abortion providers asked a district judge for limited relief from an executive order restricting abortion during the pandemic, rather than taking the case to the Supreme Court.

The move by the providers to seek help from a district judge was made in response to an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that allowed Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) directive order stopping all “nonessential” medical treatments. The governor cited the preservation of medical supplies and resources as the reason for his order. Texas is among a number of states attempting to curtail abortion, but judges in Alabama, Ohio, and Oklahoma ruled that these restrictions could not be applied to women seeking abortions.

The panel in the 5th Circuit in Texas, however, thought differently. Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote that precedent set by the Supreme Court “instructs that all constitutional rights may be reasonably restricted to combat a public health emergency.”

Clinic attorneys, abortion providers, and advocates turned to the district court to allow for some exemptions. These would include women seeking abortions induced by medication and women who are under a deadline in receiving an abortion due to Texas’ limit of 22 weeks. According to abortion providers, medication abortion in particular involves taking pills and almost never results in hospitalization. In a brief to the district judge, abortion providers noted, “Medication abortion itself requires no PPE, while the patient’s only alternative to medication abortion — continuing the pregnancy — does require PPE.” Fewer than 100 of about 52,000 abortions in 2017 were performed at hospitals, according to Texas Health and Human Services.

Sahra Harvin, a board co-chair at Clinic Access Support Network, discussed the difficulties clinics and patients are facing due to the ban. “It puts callers in a difficult situation where they’re having to choose between their reproductive health needs to be met immediately and their health or safety from coronavirus,” she said. “And I think it’s been really stressful and scary for our callers having to choose between endangering their health in one way and endangering their health in another way.”

Sources: Washington Post, 4/8/20; TexasMonthly, 4/9/20.