AUSTIN — A federal appeals court has once again allowed Texas to ban elective abortions under a coronavirus emergency order, but this time it made an exception for women who would reach the state’s gestational limit by the time the order expires.
A panel of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges on Friday granted another temporary stay to let the state enforce most of its ban on elective abortions while a heated lawsuit proceeds. It was the second time this week that the appeals court blocked a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel after an appeal from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Yeakel had issued a more limited temporary restraining order Thursday after the 5th Circuit Court threw out his first one on Tuesday. His newer order allowed providers to offer medically induced abortions —abortions by pills — to women with early-stage pregnancies and other abortion procedures to women who would be past the state’s 20-week gestational limit on April 22 or would have trouble reaching an ambulatory surgical center to get the procedure done.
In its new stay, the 5th Circuit Court retained the section of Yeakel’s allowing elective abortions for any patient who would be past the legal limit for an abortion in Texas on April 22, when Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency order is set to expire. Texas bans all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation or 22 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period.
In a March 22 emergency executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott said all nonessential medical procedures would be postponed to free up hospital beds and personal protective equipment amid rising COVID-19 cases, and Paxton promptly warned providers they could face fines or jail time for performing any type of abortion under the order.
Abortion providers sued the state last month seeking to block the order, arguing that it unnecessarily violated women’s rights and that medically induced abortions should not be included as a procedure since they only require physicians to dispense pills to patients.
In its previous stay order, the 5th Circuit Court said the state had the right to restrict rights under public health emergencies. On Friday, it doubled down and said Yeakel must address questions about the impact of the governor’s order before granting providers emergency relief. Friday’s ruling was another split decision from the three-judge panel, with Judge James L. Dennis dissenting.
The lawsuit is still proceeding, and abortion providers can respond to the new order no later than Saturday, the 5th Circuit Court’s order said.
“The court is unjustifiably forcing women to wait until the eleventh hour to get the time-sensitive, essential health care that they are constitutionally guaranteed,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We will pursue all legal options to ensure no women are left behind.”—