Law & the Courts

Federal Judges Block State-Issued Abortion Bans in Texas, Ohio

Texas governor Greg Abbott during a prayer service in Santa Fe, Tex., May 20, 2018 (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Federal district court judges have issued temporary restraining orders on states that moved to restrict abortions amid the coronavirus pandemic, after abortion providers defied orders and sued to remain open.

In Texas, District Court Judge Lee Yeakel sided with abortion clinics by issuing a temporary stay on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s ban to conserve protective gear for health care workers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Paxton issued the ruling last week, which was enacted to preserve the state’s health-care capacity, and threatens a $1,000 fine or up to 180 days in jail for anyone who continues to conduct “medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers.”

“Regarding a woman’s right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion, the Supreme Court has spoken clearly. There can be no outright ban on such a procedure,” Yeakel, who struck down a Texas abortion ban in 2017, explained in the decision.

Paxton responded by saying his office would appeal “to ensure that medical professionals on the frontlines have the supplies and protective gear they desperately need.”

Sealy Massingill, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said last week that Paxton was “playing politics” with the directive.

In Ohio, District Court Judge Michael Barrett also ruled against the state in favor of Planned Parenthood and other groups, which sued on Monday to challenge the state’s ban. Barrett issued a two-week restraining order, saying that Ohio had not proved that banning abortions would save enough masks and other gear for medical workers to overrule the “irreparable harm” of denying women abortions.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement that he’s consulting with the state Department of Health about next steps, “be it an emergency appeal, a trial on the preliminary injunction, a more specifically drawn order or other remedy.”

Yost issued cease and desist orders earlier this month to abortion clinics that defied an order from the Department of Health (ODH) to stop conducting abortions.

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