Fifth Circuit Temporarily Allows Texas To Continue Banning Abortions During COVID-19 Pandemic

Mar 31, 2020

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily halted a lower court ruling that stopped Texas officials from banning abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin issued an order Monday that allowed abortion providers to temporarily continue to offer the procedure to their patients.

In his order, Judge Yeakel said the ban raised concerns the state was violating the constitutional rights of women in the state, as well as causing “irreparable harm” to those seeking the procedure.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed, saying the ban could continue while the case moves forward.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the decision.

"The temporary stay ordered this afternoon justly prioritizes supplies and personal protective equipment for the medical professionals in need,” he said in a statement.

In a legal brief to the lower federal court, Paxton had called the ban an effort to “preserve desperately needed medical supplies for the health care professionals combatting the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”  

In a dissent, Judge James Dennis wrote, "per the [governor's] Executive Order, 'any procedure that, if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment needed to cope with the COVID 19 disaster” is exempt.”

Abortion providers have argued they use very little protective equipment for abortions, which they say are essential and time-sensitive procedures.

Since Texas implemented the abortion ban last week, providers say they have canceled hundreds of procedures across the state, causing despair and frustration among patients.

Abortion rights advocates say the state is misusing time that should be spent tackling the COVID-19 crisis by focusing on restricting abortions.

“Texans are losing their jobs, they are struggling to put food on the table, they can’t get COVID-19 testing – meanwhile indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is doubling down on banning abortion,” Aimee Arrambide, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement. "Let’s be clear, it is never the right time to play politics, but doing so in the wake of COVID-19 is a despicable low.”

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