Federal judges on Monday temporarily blocked Texas, Alabama and Ohio from enforcing COVID-19 abortion bans for the duration of the lawsuits.
On March 22, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order that:
applies throughout the State and to all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary, including routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures that are not immediately medically necessary such as orthopedic surgeries or any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.
The order notes that it is intended to, “avoid depletion of hospital capacity or of personal protective equipment needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster.”
Alabama and Ohio governors released similar orders, banning elective medical procedures. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s order provided that only essential, life-saving surgeries are allowed, whereas all others are banned until further notice. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s order was more vague.
Following the three governors’ orders, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed emergency lawsuits in Texas, Alabama and Ohio, arguing that such orders are unconstitutional. The two groups urged the court belay the orders and keep abortion clinics open.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton responded to the lawsuit, arguing that abortion providers should, like other elective procedures, “have no right to special treatment” based on established precedent. He further argued that “[m]edical professionals are in dire need of supplies, and abortion providers who refuse to follow state law are demonstrating a clear disregard for Texans suffering from this medical crisis.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with several other organizations, including the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Society of Family Planning and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine released a statement responding to the orders issued by Texas, Alabama, and Ohio:
Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.
Planned Parenthood said that the Texas lawsuit would be the first of five lawsuits to ensure patients can access necessary services, even in times of crisis.
California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote a letter to the US Department of Health, signed by 21 state attorneys general, demanding the Trump administration remove restrictions on mifepristone, which is used in medical abortions. Their aim is to prescribe the drug through telemedicine services, and allow patients to get the drug at their local pharmacy without having to get it at a clinic. By avoiding clinics, these state attorney generals hope patients can be safely treated by a physician virtually, without risking COVID-19 exposure to themselves or others in a clinic.
For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.