Abortion Services Remain Virtually Inaccessible Under Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 Order
Today, Texas abortion providers — represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America — asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore essential, time-sensitive medication abortion services while the case proceeds. This comes after Gov. Greg Abbott tried to block virtually all abortion services through his COVID-19 order. The emergency request comes after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted most of the state’s request to stay a federal district court’s second temporary restraining order. Under the 5th Circuit’s latest ruling, only patients who will be over the state’s gestational age cutoff by April 22 (the day after Gov. Abbott’s executive order lifts) can access an abortion procedure.
For almost three weeks, providers — including Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Planned Parenthood South Texas Surgical Center, Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, and Austin Women’s Health Center — have had to cancel appointments for hundreds of patients while Gov. Abbott continues to exploit a pandemic in order to score political points.
Meanwhile, leading medical experts, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists andthe American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology told the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that abortion should not be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so, they said, only creates a greater strain on the hospital system during this global public health crisis.
Statement from Nancy Northup, president and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights: “It is vital that the Supreme Court step in and protect the health, lives and futures of Texas women. This is an extraordinarily difficult time, but this is an easy case. Texas is blatantly abusing its emergency power to obliterate Roe v. Wade. This tactic of using bogus health and safety justifications to close clinics is nothing new. In fact, we have another case before the Supreme Court right now challenging a different sham law designed to shut down clinics. These thinly veiled attempts to end abortion must stop.” Statement of Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“The past few weeks have been untenable for Texans in need of time-sensitive abortion procedures. We’ve heard patients grow increasingly more desperate for care. Gov. Abbott has blocked abortion access for mothers who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, people quarantined with abusive partners, and patients with fatal fetal diagnoses. Now is the time to be making abortion more accessible, not less. Medical professionals everywhere are being trusted to make necessary but difficult decisions about if and when to treat patients. Doctors who provide abortions are asking to do the same — because they, not politicians, know what’s best for their patients. This is a matter of health care, not political opinion.”
Statement from Rupali Sharma, senior counsel and director, Lawyering Project:
“Texans who seek abortion care deserve dignity and compassion — particularly during a public health crisis. Instead, they’ve been thrown into a tailspin of uncertainty, unsure if and when they’ll be able to obtain essential, constitutionally protected healthcare. These extraordinary circumstances require urgent intervention. That’s why we’re asking the Supreme Court to step in and stop Texas from blocking abortion access as its residents contend with unprecedented challenges.”
Already, courts in Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma are allowing abortion providers, just like all other doctors, to decide when to provide essential abortion care while conserving needed resources during this pandemic. Texas should be no different. In fact, forcing people to carry their pregnancies to term against their will only creates a heavier burden on a hospital system that’s already stretched thin caring for COVID-19 patients.
Texans already have to navigate a long list of restrictions that force patients to have medically unnecessary face-to-face contact with providers, and for some, push abortion out of reach altogether. These harmful restrictions include state-mandated in-person counseling and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. For many people, traveling out of state or waiting weeks for their procedure will mean they won’t be able to access an abortion at all.
The Texas plaintiff abortion providers are represented by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project and the Law Offices of Patrick J. O’Connell PLLC. A copy of the complaint can be found here.
Timeline of legal actions:
- March 25: A group of Texas abortion providers — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project — sued Gov. Greg Abbott and other state officials to ensure that patients can continue to access essential, time-sensitive abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Press release here.
- March 30: A federal district judge granted Texas abortion providers a temporary restraining order to allow abortion services to continue for the time being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Press release here.
- March 31: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals put a temporary pause on the temporary restraining order granted by the district court only one day earlier while they reviewed the district court’s order, resulting in severely restricted abortion access in Texas. This stay order was granted before abortion providers could make their case to the court. Press release here.
- April 7: In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals used a rare procedural mechanism to rule that the district court was wrong to grant emergency relief to protect access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care. This allowed the State of Texas to continue using Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 order to block access to abortion. Press release here.
- April 9: A federal district court granted a second temporary restraining order against Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 order. This decision allowed abortion providers to resume medication abortion as well as abortion procedures for patients who would be unable to access abortion due to their gestational age on April 22 (the day after Gov. Abbott’s executive order is set to expire). Press release here.
- April 10: For the second time, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against abortion providers, this time granting a stay reversing in part the federal district court’s latest temporary restraining order (granted on April 9), which means abortion is once again largely inaccessible in the state of Texas.
- April 11 (today): Abortion providers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore medication abortion services while the case proceeds.
Center for Reproductive Rights: 585-919-9966; [email protected]
Planned Parenthood Media Office: 212-261-4433; [email protected]
Lawyering Project: [email protected]