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Fifth Circuit Upholds Texas' Abortion Ban During COVID-19 Pandemic

Abortion providers have had to call patients to cancel their appointments this week because of a ban issued Sunday.
Julia Reihs
Abortion providers have had to call patients to cancel their appointments this week because of a ban issued Sunday.

Texas can continue to ban abortions as COVID-19 continues to infect more people in the state, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott issued on order halting procedures that are “not immediately medically necessary” during the coronavirus outbreak, which he said includes abortions.

In their ruling, judges said the state had the right to ban the procedure in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

“In the unprecedented circumstances now facing our society, even a minor delay in fully implementing the state’s emergency measures could have major ramifications,” they wrote, “because, as the evidence shows, an 'exponential increase in COVID-19 cases is expected over the next few days and weeks.'”

Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the group plans to “use every tool” at its disposal “to fight this harmful order” and protect patients.

“This is unconscionable,” McGill said. “Patients are already being forced to put their lives in harm's way during a pandemic, and now will be forced to continue doing so to get the health care they need. Abortion is essential, it’s time-sensitive, and it cannot wait for a pandemic to pass. Instead of playing politics during a pandemic, Gov. Abbott should be focusing on the health care needs of his constituents.”

Providers in Texas say have been forced to cancel hundreds of appointments across the state so far and that patients have responded with “anger, sadness, frustration and despair.” Providers say these women will be forced to have the procedure later in their pregnancies and, in many cases, forced to carry out a pregnancy.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued in a legal brief that the ban on abortions is an effort to “preserve desperately needed medical supplies for the health care professionals combatting the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic."

“Medical professionals are in dire need of supplies, and abortion providers who refuse to follow state law are demonstrating a clear disregard for Texans suffering from this medical crisis,” Paxton wrote.

Abortion providers have said very little protective equipment is used to provide abortions, which often times only require women to take pills.

In his dissent, Judge James Dennis said the ruling undermines a woman’s constitutional right to choose.

“In a time where panic and fear already consume our daily lives, the majority’s opinion inflicts further panic and fear on women in Texas by depriving them, without justification, of their constitutional rights, exposing them to the risks of continuing an unwanted pregnancy, as well as the risks of travelling to other states in search of time sensitive medical care,” he wrote.

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.
Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.