Judge Blocks State From Banning Abortion During Pandemic
Texas providers can continue delivering essential care – for now.
By Mary Tuma,
5:10PM, Mon. Mar. 30, 2020
Despite the best efforts of Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Texas abortion providers can continue their work – for now.
After Paxton, guided by an order from Abbott, banned all abortion procedures in the name of conserving health care resources to combat COVID-19, providers – stressing that abortion is essential health care – fought back with a lawsuit, filed last week, as the Chronicle reported. Today, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted providers, including Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas (which encompasses Austin), Whole Woman’s Health, and Austin Women’s Health Center, a temporary restraining order against Paxton’s directive, reinstating abortion care in Texas.
In his nine-page order, Yeakel says the abortion ban is inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. “Regarding a woman's right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion, the Supreme Court has spoken clearly,” he writes. “There can be no outright ban on such a procedure. This court will not speculate on whether the Supreme Court included a silent 'except-in-a-national-emergency clause' in its previous writings on the issue.”
Yeakel also writes that abortion patients will most likely suffer “serious and irreparable harm” - the general standard for granting an injunction before a trial on the merits of a lawsuit - if Paxton's order is not restrained. “The benefits of a limited potential reduction in the use of some personal protective equipment by abortion providers is outweighed by the harm of eliminating abortion access in the midst of a pandemic that increases the risks of continuing an unwanted pregnancy, as well as the risks of travelling to other states in search of time-sensitive medical care,” writes Yeakel. “The court finds that a temporary restraining order will not disserve the public interest.”
Reproductive health care providers say the move by Paxton is an attempt to exploit a public health crisis to advance his political agenda. Following his order, which included criminal penalties for violations, clinics in Austin and elsewhere were forced to turn away patients.
“Planned Parenthood, along with other health care providers in Texas, is committed to providing urgent healthcare while carefully implementing COVID-19 public health guidelines,” said Ken Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “Now that Texas Governor Abbott’s ban on abortions has been blocked, we can refocus on the patients counting on us. Banning abortions does not protect public health. Our doors are open for patients seeking essential health care.”
Yeakel’s order lasts until April 13, at which point a phone hearing will determine the fate of the preliminary injunction. Stay tuned.