5th Circuit Allows Texas to Continue Blocking Abortion Access During COVID-19 Pandemic

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The court ruled that the district court was wrong to grant emergency relief that would allow all abortion care to continue in Texas.
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(PRESS RELEASE) Today, in a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals used a rare procedural mechanism to rule that the district court was wrong to grant emergency relief to protect access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care. This allows Gov. Abbott to use his COVID-19 order to block access to abortion. This is the latest twist in a lawsuit brought by Texas abortion providers — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project — to protect access to care. Plaintiffs include 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. Despite this setback, the providers will continue to fight for patients, who are now scrambling to access care during this pandemic.

Enforcement of the governor's order has already had a dramatic effect on patients’ lives, with some being forced to travel hundreds of miles in a pandemic to access basic and essential health care.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other national medical groups filed an amicus brief with the 5th Circuit calling out the hypocrisy of this executive order, stating: “Indeed, the Governor’s order is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.” 

Statement from Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“This is not the last word—we will take every legal action necessary to fight this abuse of emergency powers. Texas has been trying to end abortion for decades and they are exploiting this pandemic to achieve that goal. Texas women are not waiting for the courts—those who are able to travel are already leaving the state to get care. Others are tragically being left behind. The need for abortion care doesn’t disappear during a pandemic.” 

Statement of Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“This is unconscionable. Patients are already being forced to put their lives in harm's way during a pandemic, and now will be forced to continue doing so to get the health care they need. Abortion is essential, it’s time-sensitive, and it cannot wait for a pandemic to pass. Instead of playing politics during a pandemic, Gov. Abbott should be focusing on the health care needs of his constituents. Planned Parenthood won’t let this injustice stand. Our patients deserve better. We’ll use every tool at our disposal to fight this harmful order and protect our patients’ health care.”

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 have had to cancel appointments for hundreds of patients in the ensuing confusion.

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

The plaintiffs in this case — abortion providers throughout Texas — 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 can be found here.

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Media Contacts:

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

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

Lawyering Project: JMiller@lawyeringproject.org