AUSTIN, Texas - A federal appeals court has upheld a Texas executive order postponing non-essential medical procedures, including abortions, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously put on hold the decision by an Austin district judge that had ruled the "Supreme Court has spoken clearly" on a woman's right to abortion while blocking efforts by state Republican leaders to ban the procedure during the virus crisis.
The appeals court had stayed the judge's temporary restraining order while they considered a petition by Texas officials.
The appeals court says that the district court ignored a rule that allows the state to "reasonably" restrict constitutional rights, including that of abortion, "as the safety of the general public may demand." The appeals court also says the district court failed to balance the executive order's "temporary burdens on abortion against its benefits in thwarting a public health crisis."
According to the appeals court decision, a hearing has been scheduled for April 13, where all parties will have the chance to present evidence on the effects of the executive order on abortion access.
Planned Parenthood joined other abortion providers in suing Texas over moving to ban abortions during the coronavirus outbreak, including one clinic owner saying Abbott’s March order had already resulted in more than 150 canceled appointments.
“This is unconscionable. Patients are already being forced to put their lives in harm's way during a pandemic, and now will be forced to continue doing so to get the health care they need. Abortion is essential, it’s time-sensitive, and it cannot wait for a pandemic to pass," Planned Parenthood acting president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement. "Instead of playing politics during a pandemic, Gov. Abbott should be focusing on the health care needs of his constituents. Planned Parenthood won’t let this injustice stand. Our patients deserve better. We’ll use every tool at our disposal to fight this harmful order and protect our patients’ health care.”
The federal lawsuit filed in Austin, Texas, is among the most high-profile challenges to a government response to the coronavirus pandemic. Abortion providers accused Republican leaders in Texas of exploiting the pandemic for politics after Abbott halted nonessential surgeries in order to free up medical supplies to fight COVID-19.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the appeals court for upholding the executive order in a statement.
“I thank the Fifth Circuit for their attention to the health and safety needs of Texans suffering from this medical crisis. Governor Abbott’s order ensures that hospital beds remain available for Coronavirus patients and personal protective equipment reaches the hardworking medical professionals who need it the most during this crisis,” said Paxton. “Texans must continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, and we must support the health professionals on the frontlines of this battle.”
The executive order is in effect until at least April 21.
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