Two days after abortion providers in Texas asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action concerning abortion access in Texas, the federal appeals court that had allowed restrictions on abortion to take effect backed down. The surprise move spares the Supreme Court—at least for the moment—from having to decide this volatile issue at a fraught time, and it spares the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit the possibility of an embarrassing reversal. Sadly, though, women in Texas have not been spared. They suffered—and still face—hardship and uncertainty as Texas politicians cruelly exploit the novel coronavirus pandemic to try to ban access to abortions.
A furious legal battle has been waged in the federal courts in the weeks since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order banning most abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the pandemic emergency. The decision Monday night by the appeals court restored access to medication abortion, a two-pill process that accounts for a significant portion of abortions in Texas. But the only other abortion procedures that remain available are for patients with a gestational age that would exceed the state’s legal limit for abortion by April 22 (one day after Gov. Abbott’s executive order is set to expire).
The legal back-and-forth has caused fear, confusion, and other real hardships. Court affidavits detail the damage.
Texas officials claim the restrictions on abortion are necessary to preserve resources and personnel in the fight against COVID-19. But most states are managing to fight the virus without impinging on women’s constitutional rights. That’s because abortion is a relatively safe procedure that is generally not done in hospitals and does not require extensive personal protective equipment.
Instead of expending time and resources on an unscrupulous campaign to ban abortion, officials in Texas should be focusing on strategies that might actually help in the fight against the coronavirus.
–The Washington Post, April 15, 2020
As attempts to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic go, here’s a reprehensible one: the effort by some conservative states to halt abortions by arguing that they are “nonessential” medical procedures.
It should be obvious that an abortion can’t be “postponed” until the pandemic clears up like a facelift or cataract surgery or routine dental work. If a woman doesn’t get an abortion in a timely fashion, she can’t get it at all.
And that is, undoubtedly, what Texas and Ohio are hoping for. This is a chance for abortion opponents and state officials who are hostile to reproductive rights to advance their goal of making abortions difficult to access under the ruse of protecting coronavirus patients. (Mississippi’s governor said his state might follow suit.) That’s shameless. And it’s medically negligent.
If a woman can’t get an abortion, there is, indeed, a serious adverse medical consequence: She has a baby she did not intend or desire to have.
In Texas, where some providers are already turning away patients, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project filed suit this week asking for a temporary restraining order against using the health order to stop abortion procedures.
According to the suit, Texas’ interpretation of the health order is unconstitutional, singles out abortion providers from other medical services, and causes patients irreparable harm.
Both Ohio and Texas have a history of passing baseless restrictions on abortion. That they would now use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny women their constitutional right to an abortion is perhaps not surprising, but it is certainly appalling.
–Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2020