AUSTIN — The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will allow medically induced abortions, which only require pills, to be offered in Texas, according to one of the plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit over a coronavirus emergency executive order that halted most abortions.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO and president of Whole Woman’s Health clinics, said on Twitter late Monday night that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals gave abortion providers “medication abortion back,” effective immediately.
I HAVE REALLY GOOD NEWS!!!
THE 5th circuit just gave us medication abortion back! Effective immediately.
(We think they got scared by our move to ask SCOTUS to step in.)
Yes this is whiplash!
— Amy Hagstrom Miller (@AmyHM) April 14, 2020
The new ruling is a change for the 5th Circuit Court, which previously sided with the state in a legal back-and-forth with U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who had granted providers two temporary restraining orders to continue performing abortions as the lawsuit proceeded.
Last Friday, the 5th Circuit once again allowed the state to enforce most of its order banning abortions through April 21, making an exception only for women who would reach Texas’ gestational limit by the time the order expired. But it made no allowances for medically induced abortions, in which women with early-stage pregnancies take two pills administered by physicians.
After 5th Circuit’s ruling, abortion providers on Saturday asked the U.S. Supreme Court for emergency intervention in the case, which Hagstrom Miller said might have “scared” the court. The Supreme Court had not yet responded to the request on Monday.
The heated legal battle began when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned abortion providers they could face fines or jail time for performing any type of abortions under a March 22 executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott for all nonessential medical procedures to be postponed.
The executive order was aimed at helping hospitals cope with rising COVID-19 cases by freeing up beds and personal protective equipment such as masks.
But abortion providers sued to block the order in late March. They argued it unnecessarily violated women’s rights because most abortions, and especially medically induced abortions, do not involve much medical gear and are time-sensitive care, deemed essential by other states.
Circuit Judges Kyle Duncan and Jennifer Walker Elrod, both Republican appointees, had granted Paxton appeals against the temporary restraining orders from Yeakel, a Republican appointee. Circuit Judge James L. Dennis, a Democratic appointee, had dissented in favor of abortion providers.
In a unanimous Monday ruling, the 5th Circuit Court said the state had failed to show how medication abortions were included in the executive order, and “given the ambiguity in the record” dissolved its previous stay order halting medication abortions.
But the court expressed “no ultimate decision” on the ongoing lawsuit and other parts of the 5th Circuit’s April 9 stay order.