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New Court Order Allows Medication Abortions In Texas, But Many Women Likely Won't Qualify For Them

Medication abortions are only available to women who are less than 10 weeks' pregnant.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Medication abortions are available only to women who are less than 10 weeks' pregnant.

Abortion providers can serve women very early on in their pregnancies and those on the cusp of not being able to get the procedure, under a ruling issued by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday.

Last month, Texas officials banned medical procedures that are “not immediately medically necessary” during the COVID-19 pandemic; they said that included abortions. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued the ban is an effort to “preserve desperately needed medical supplies for the health care professionals” fighting the virus.

But providers say abortions are an essential and time-sensitive procedure that should never have been wrapped into the state’s crack down on some medical procedures.

They sued the state, and a federal court temporarily granted them the ability to continue offering the procedure. Then, the Fifth Circuit stopped the lower court's order, upholding the ban.

On Monday, though, the Fifth Circuit said medication abortions – which are administrated through pills – and surgical abortions for women who will be 22 weeks pregnant when the order expires can continue.

Dr. Amna Dermish, the regional medical director for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said medication abortions are available only to women who are less than 10 weeks' pregnant.

“Yes, it’s great that we can do medication abortions,” she said, “but we can’t do any type of surgical abortion unless a patient is about to be beyond the gestational age limit. So, that’s a huge swath of people who are not eligible for care.”

In fact, Dermish said, among the 11 patients she saw Monday for ultrasounds required by the state, only three were eligible for medication abortions. She said women can be no more than 10 weeks pregnant when they get the ultrasound and no more than 10 weeks when they are administered the first pill.

“So, that’s eight patients who still can’t have their abortion and are being forced to ride out this executive order,” she said.

Courtney Chambers, the Texas advocacy director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said during an online event with the Texas Freedom Network that many women in Texas are already forced to delay care because of existing laws. She said that includes the state's 24-hour waiting period and bans on insurance coverage for the procedure.

“Those push appointments back of those who are most vulnerable – so, people living paycheck to paycheck, people who struggle to find child care and people who have to travel really far to get to their nearest clinic,” she said. “Those folks may not be eligible for medication abortion and that’s even truer" during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rev. Deneen Robinson, policy director for The Afiya Center in Dallas, said many women her group serves have to “scramble” to get money together for the procedure, as well as things like transportation. A majority of these women are also essential workers, she said, and likely are not getting time off.

So “medication abortion is not option” by the time many of these women seek care, she said.

“All of those things … exacerbate the fear that people are having to deal with,” Robinson said.

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

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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