Abortion providers sue Texas governor over ban on procedure during coronavirus crisis

Abortion providers sue Texas governor over ban on procedure during coronavirus crisis
© Greg Nash

Abortion providers in Texas filed a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday challenging his statewide ban on abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Abbott’s administration last week directed health providers in the state to pause all surgeries that aren't immediately necessary in order to conserve medical supplies for health workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus epidemic.

Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said on Monday that directive included abortions, essentially ending access to the procedure in the state for the time being.

“Groups were forced to go to court today after Gov. Abbott used the COVID-19 crisis to block access to essential, time-sensitive abortion procedures,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

“Instead of addressing this crisis, Abbott and Attorney General Paxton are spending valuable time and resources scoring political points by trying to further restrict abortion access which has already been pushed out of reach for many Texans.”

The global shortages of masks and gloves is a major concern for health workers who need to stay healthy to treat the influx of coronavirus patients that are expected in the coming weeks and months.

But supporters of abortion rights argue the procedure is essential and time-sensitive. 

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"There are people in Texas who need an abortion today. Now. They cannot wait a delay of 30 days or even less," said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood on a call with reporters Wednesday night. 

Planned Parenthood's clinics in the state have stopped providing surgical abortions. Providers have also stopped providing medication abortions because it is not clear whether those are permissible under Abbott's executive order.

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health, which runs three abortion clinics in Texas, said it had to cancel 150 appointments this week after Paxton's announcement. 

"Attorney General Paxton's conclusion that abortion care is not an essential medical service that is needed by our community during this pandemic has already created a health crisis on top of a health crisis," she said to reporters.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing abortion providers in the suit, said they are seeking a temporary restraining order against the ban, and eventually a permanent injunction.

"Texas is abusing the state's emergency powers," she said.

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Providers that don't comply with the restrictions on elective surgeries, laid out in an executive order issued last week by Abbott, could face fines up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

 

In all, there are 22 clinics that provide abortions in Texas that could be impacted by the executive order. 

Several states have directed health care providers to cancel elective surgeries to conserve medical supplies that are in short supply. Texas, Mississippi and Ohio are the only ones that have specifically targeted abortion providers. 

“The truth is abortion, for the most part, is an elective procedure that can be done later,” Paxton said Wednesday during a live interview on Facebook with a conservative advocacy group.

The moves by those states run counter to guidance released last week by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) that abortion should be considered essential.

Meanwhile, other states, including Virginia and New Jersey, are also directing hospitals to cancel elective procedures but officials there said abortion should be considered essential. 

Updated at 8:10 p.m.