AUSTIN, Texas - A federal appeals court panel ruled that medication abortions, in which pills are taken to terminate a pregnancy, can be provided in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order last month that bars non-essential medical procedures so that health resources can go to treating coronavirus patients. Texas’ Republican attorney general has said that providing abortions other than for an immediate medical emergency would violate the order.
In a ruling Monday, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that medication abortions can go forward. In a concurrence, Judge James L. Dennis wrote that Texas’ move to ban medication abortions “is a strong indication that the enforcement is pretextual and does not bear a ‘real or substantial relation’ to the public health crisis we are experiencing.”
Over the weekend, Texas abortion clinics asked the Supreme Court to step in to allow medication abortions.
Such an abortion involves taking one pill at a clinic, then taking a second pill 24 to 48 hours later, typically at home. Clinics have argued that medication abortions do not require personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and gowns that might be needed for coronavirus patients.
Texas permits medication abortions during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
“Now it’s time for Gov. Abbott to end his exploitation of this pandemic to ban all abortion access,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “None of it is medically justified, all of it is unconstitutional, and women are being thrown into a state of fear and uncertainty.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday on the court’s ruling.
Similar legal challenges have been filed in other states that have moved to restrict abortions during the pandemic. On Monday, a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower-court order that overturned an Oklahoma ban.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also declined to hear an appeal by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost seeking to reverse a judge’s temporary restraining order allowing abortion facilities in the state to continue performing surgical abortions.