Texas Abortion Providers Secure Emergency Relief to Keep Essential Abortion Procedures Available During Pandemic

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Decision comes after Gov. Abbott exploits COVID-19 pandemic to block abortion access
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Today, 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. This means that abortion providers can resume offering the essential and time-sensitive Texans need, for now. This decision comes in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to exploit the pandemic to block abortion access. His irresponsible and harmful actions forced a group of Texas abortion providers — represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Lawyering Project — to go to court to protect patients. Abortion providers in other states including Alabama, Iowa, Ohio, and Oklahoma also filed similar lawsuits today in order to protect abortion access during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While doctors and nurses in his state work around the clock to care for patients suffering from COVID-19, Gov. Abbott inserted politics into what should be a personal medical decision. As a result, 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 in the ensuing confusion.

Judge Lee Yeakel wrote in his opinion: “Plaintiffs' patients will suffer serious and irreparable harm in the absence of a temporary restraining order. The attorney general's interpretation of the Executive Order 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.”

Statement from Nancy Northup, president and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights:
“This ruling sends a message to other states: Using this pandemic to ban abortion access is unconstitutional. Abortion care is time-sensitive and essential health care that has a profound impact on a person’s health and life, which is why it is protected as a constitutional right.” 

Statement of Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“We are grateful that patients can continue to access abortion for now. Abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical service that cannot be delayed. To politicians and anti-abortion groups exploiting a global pandemic to score political points, heed our warning: We will not let you put the health of our patients, and the community, at risk.

“It’s time to stop wasting valuable time and resources on this opportunistic play to ban abortion. Let’s put health care first, and get back to work. The priority of Planned Parenthood health centers is ensuring that every person can access essential health care while conserving needed resources during this time of a global pandemic. Gov. Abbott’s priority, and the priority for all of our elected leaders, should be the same. Planned Parenthood will work day by day, week by week to safeguard the ability of our patients and community to access essential health care, no matter what.”

Statement from Rupali Sharma, senior counsel and director, Lawyering Project: 

“A public health crisis should never be manipulated to advance a political agenda, much less one of denying people abortion care. The Lawyering Project will stand with people who need abortions until they’re able to get them — and get them with dignity — regardless of their circumstances.”        

Experts including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology agree that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure. The groups note that delaying this care could “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.” Delays or additional barriers to care can make it more difficult or even impossible for patients to access safe, legal abortion. For many people of color, who have always faced systemic barriers to health care and are more vulnerable to COVID-19, adding unnecessary restrictions on abortion access poses dangerous risks.

This is just one of the many examples of Gov. Abbott’s failed leadership. Not only does Texas already have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, but due to years of politicians undermining the social safety net, Texans are fighting this pandemic with fewer hospitals, providers, and inadequate health insurance coverage. 

The 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 filed last week can be found here.

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Media Contacts:
Planned Parenthood Media Office: 212-261-4433; media.office@ppfa.org

Center for Reproductive Rights: 585-919-9966; center.press@reprorights.org

Lawyering Project: JMiller@lawyeringproject.org