On April 22, 2020, the state of Texas abandoned its legal fight and agreed to allow abortion care to resume in full. In papers filed in the case, Texas clarified that its new executive order taking effect the same day—which exempts any health care facility that certifies to the health department that they will set aside 25% of hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients and won’t request personal protective equipment (PPE) from governmental sources—also exempts abortion clinics, allowing them to resume care.
Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “Finally, women in Texas can get the time-sensitive abortion care that they are constitutionally guaranteed. Women never should have had to go to court to get essential health care. We will be vigilant in ensuring there are no future interruptions to services, including by assessing the appropriate next steps to take in the case.”
Earlier in the week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Texas abortion providers, vacating a lower court’s ruling that allowed medication abortion to continue. As a result, most abortions were again prohibited in Texas, except for those who would pass the state’s gestational limit by April 22, when Governor Greg Abbott’s emergency order banning “non-essential procedures” during the COVID-19 pandemic was due to expire.
Commenting on that decision, Northup said, “The appellate court is creating chaos and uncertainty for women seeking abortions in Texas. Patients who had appointments scheduled will now be thrown into a state of panic yet again. It’s clear this abortion ban has nothing to do with the pandemic. Texas has been trying to restrict abortion for decades and this is part of that larger strategy. We will continue to fight for the rights of the women of Texas.”
The week before, the Fifth Circuit had lifted its stay of a lower court’s temporary restraining order that protected access to medication abortions. The appeals court ruled after Texas abortion providers—represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America—filed an emergency application asking the U.S. Supreme Court to restore a district court’s temporary restraining order blocked by the Fifth Circuit that would allow patients to access medication abortion.
In late March, Governor Abbott issued an executive order postponing all surgeries and procedures not deemed immediately medically necessary. The order was interpreted by the state attorney general to include “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”
Timeline of Texas Legal Actions
|March 25, 2020||Texas abortion providers sued Governor Greg Abbott and other state officials to ensure that patients can continue to access abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic.|
|March 30, 2020||A federal district judge granted a temporary restraining order to allow abortion services to continue for the time being.|
|March 31, 2020||The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the temporary restraining order granted by the district court while it reviewed the district court’s order.|
|April 07, 2020||A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s temporary restraining order, allowing Texas to continue blocking access to abortion.|
|April 09, 2020||A federal district court granted a second temporary restraining order against the Governor’s executive order, allowing providers to resume medication abortion as well as abortion procedures for patients who would be unable to access abortion due to their gestational age.|
|April 10, 2021||For the second time, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against abortion providers, granting a stay reversing in part the district court’s latest temporary restraining order.|
|April 11, 2020||Abortion providers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore medication abortion services while the case proceeds.|
|April 13, 2020||The 5th Circuit denied Texas’s request to stay the second temporary restraining order as to medication abortion.|
|April 20, 2020||The 5th Circuit vacated a lower court’s ruling that allowed medication abortion to continue.|
|April 22, 2020||Texas abandoned its legal fight and agreed to allow abortion care to resume in full under a new executive order.|
Legal filings in this case:
Texas emergency motion, temporary restraining order, stay of order, 5th Circuit reversal, second temporary restraining order, second 5th Circuit stay of order, Supreme Court emergency action, 5th Circuit lifting of stay, and Fifth Circuit ruling.