A federal appeals court upheld Texas’s ban on abortion services during the coronavirus crisis less than 24 hours after a district judge struck down parts of the ban. This latest decision blocks medication abortions but allows abortions for those who would be past Texas’s legal gestational limit at the end of the ban.
In late March, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order halting all “non-essential” medical procedures until at least April 22 to conserve supplies for COVID-19-related care and reduce strain on the healthcare system. State Attorney General Ken Paxton then declared that all non-emergency abortions are elective procedures and ordered providers to stop performing them. Doctors who violate the order could receive jail time or fines of up to $1000.
The attorney general’s order quickly became the center of a legal battle as Texas abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, went to court to fight the ban. Providers and reproductive rights advocates argue that banning abortion, beyond being a violation of patients’ constitutional rights, is dangerous because it forces people to travel out of state during a pandemic to get the care they need.
On March 31, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a federal district court’s initial injunction that allowed Texas clinics to continue providing abortion care, sending the case back to the district court. Last Thursday, District Judge Lee Yaekel ordered that Texas allow medication abortions and and surgical abortions for patients who would pass the state’s gestational limit during the ban. “A ban within a limited period becomes a total ban when that period expires. As a minimum, this is an undue burden on a woman’s right to a previability abortion,” wrote Yaekel.
This small victory for Texas abortion providers was short-lived. On Friday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Texas could entirely halt medication abortions. Following the appeals court decision, Planned Parenthood submitted an emergency request for the Supreme Court to take up the case.
Sources: CBS 4/10/20; NPR 4/10/20; Quartz 4/13/20