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Appeals Court Halts Texas Abortion Ban During Pandemic

A gavel sits on the chairman’s dais in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2019 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A federal appeals court on Monday halted Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s temporary ban on abortions as a nonessential medical procedure during the coronavirus pandemic, potentially staving off a Supreme Court battle over the issue.

The three-judge panel on the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Texas cannot temporarily block abortions in which a woman takes a pill to terminate her pregnancy.

Abortion providers had asked the Supreme Court over the weekend for emergency permission to continue administering medication abortions. The high court will likely not have to address that request now that the appeals court has decided in their favor.

Abbot said the ban was intended to ration personal protective equipment, items like masks and paper gowns for doctors, and other resources that are running low as hospitals deal with an influx of coronavirus patients.

Texas’s “stated desire to enforce [the ban] against medication abortions despite the executive order’s apparent inapplicability is a strong indication that the enforcement is pretextual and does not bear a ‘real or substantial relation’ to the public health crisis we are experiencing,” wrote Judge James L. Dennis, a Clinton appointee, in his concurrence.

The appeals court cited the Texas Medical Board’s specification that the state’s coronavirus medical restrictions do not apply to taking pills, implying that medication abortions may not even qualify as a procedure. The judges also noted that personal protective equipment is not required for a medication abortion. However, surgical abortions will remain restricted.

Several other states, including Oklahoma, Ohio, Mississippi and Alabama, are also enmeshed in legal battles surrounding their attempts to ban abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

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