5th Circuit Allows Gov. Abbott to Block Abortion Procedures During a Pandemic

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This comes one day after federal district court blocks the order, allowing essential care
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Today, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals used an extraordinary measure to allow Gov. Greg Abbott to drastically restrict essential, time-sensitive abortion procedures using his COVID-19 executive order. The court issued its stay before the abortion providers — represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America — could even respond to arguments made to the court late yesterday by Gov. Abbott. Today’s order stays Monday’s temporary restraining order granted by a federal district court, which would have helped ensure Texans have access to essential abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic. This move by the 5th Circuit puts people across Texas in a perilous position, yet again, as they scramble to access care during a public health crisis. The abortion provider plaintiffs will ask the 5th Circuit not to stay the temporary restraining order and to keep the temporary restraining order in place until the district court can hold a hearing — scheduled for April 13 — on their request for a preliminary injunction.

As doctors and nurses in his state work around the clock to care for patients suffering from COVID-19, Gov. Abbott inserted politics into what should be a personal medical decision. As a result, providers — including Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Planned Parenthood South Texas Surgical Center, Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, and Austin Women’s Health Center — have had to cancel appointments for hundreds of patients in the ensuing confusion. Patients are putting themselves and others at risk, forced to travel hundreds of miles, in a pandemic just to access care. 

Statement from Nancy Northup, president and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights:
“The Fifth Circuit is escalating the fear and confusion women seeking abortion in Texas are already experiencing. The trial court found just yesterday that women will suffer irreparable harm if clinics are closed. We will continue fighting this legal battle against Texas’ abuse of emergency powers.”

Statement of Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“How heartless do you have to be to, in a time of crisis, take extraordinary measures to take away people’s health care? Abortion is essential health care, and it is urgent and time-sensitive.  While people everywhere are trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, politicians like Gov. Abbott continue this perverse obsession with banning abortion. Those who are caring for their families, forced to work essential jobs, and doing what they can to stay healthy need access to health care right now. Instead, these politicians are forcing patients to travel hundreds of miles putting themselves and their families at risk. 

“No other form of health care is being targeted this way — only abortion. Don’t be fooled: Gov. Abbott's use of his executive order to ban abortion has nothing to do with health or safety. If Gov. Abbott cared about the lives of Texans, he’d be addressing the public health crisis at hand. Planned Parenthood is here with our patients. We will not cower before politicians who insist on exploiting a global pandemic to score political points.”

Statement from Rupali Sharma, senior counsel and director, Lawyering Project:
“Today’s ruling will push abortion out of reach for some Texans.  That’s not only unconscionable, it’s unconstitutional.  The Lawyering Project will continue to stand with people who need abortions in Texas.”

Abortion providers in four other states — Alabama, Iowa, Ohio, and Oklahoma — also filed similar lawsuits this week to protect abortion access during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus far, judges have provided temporary relief to protect access to care in Alabama and Ohio. 

Experts — including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology — agree that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive health care procedure. The groups note that delaying this care could “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.” Delays or additional barriers to care can make it more difficult or even impossible for patients to access safe, legal abortion. For many people of color, who have always faced systemic barriers to health care and are more vulnerable to COVID-19, adding unnecessary restrictions on abortion access poses dangerous risks.

The Texas plaintiff abortion providers are represented by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project and the Law Offices of Patrick J. O’Connell PLLC. A copy of the complaint filed last week can be found here.

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Media Contacts:
Planned Parenthood Media Office: 212-261-4433; media.office@ppfa.org

Center for Reproductive Rights: 585-919-9966; center.press@reprorights.org

Lawyering Project: JMiller@lawyeringproject.org