A US appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Texas can enforce limits on the ability of women to obtain abortions as part of the state’s policy requiring postponement of non-urgent medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals on a 2-1 vote threw out a federal judge’s order issued last week that had blocked the state’s action. The appeals court had earlier temporarily put the district judge’s ruling on hold.
The appeals court action allows state officials to continue to enforce the restrictions, which were announced by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican. Under the policy, abortion providers are covered by a state order that required postponement of non-urgent medical procedures as healthcare providers focus on battling COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Texas and other states that previously pursued abortion restrictions have sought to crack down on abortion availability during the pandemic.
Writing for the majority, Judge Kyle Duncan faulted Austin-based District Court Judge Lee Yeakel on several counts, saying he had “usurped the state’s authority to craft emergency health measures”.
Duncan, who was appointed to the bench by Republican President Donald Trump, concluded that the state must prevail “given the extraordinary nature of these errors, the escalating spread of COVID-19 and the state’s critical interest in protecting the public health”.
Yeakel had ruled that Paxton’s action “prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable”.
Abortion providers, including Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood, sued to block the Texas policy after clinics said they were forced to cancel hundreds of appointments for abortions across the state.
The restrictions violate the right to abortion under the US Constitution as recognized by the US Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v Wade decision, the abortion providers argued.
Reproductive health advocates immediately slammed Tuesday’s ruling.
“This is bad for patients, families & communities,” tweeted Physicians for Reproductive Health. “No one should be criminalized or punished for accessing or providing health care.
BREAKING: 5th circuit court of appeals rules TX can continue its dangerous ban on abortion care. This is bad for patients, families & communities. No one should be criminalized or punished for accessing or providing health care. #AbortionIsEssential https://t.co/m5aFx1XTej
— PRH (@prhdocs) April 7, 2020
The UN has said the pandemic has disrupted access to life-saving reproductive and sexual health services for women worldwide.
Texas is among several states facing legal challenges over their decisions to curb abortion access amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A judge in Oklahoma on Monday blocked a statewide order that temporarily blocked abortion procedures in the state.