Federal judges stop states designating abortion 'non-essential'

shutterstock 411409579 Blue and white sign above the entrance for the Planned Parenthood clinic in Newton, NJ. Via Shutterstock.

Federal judges in Texas, Alabama, and Ohio on Monday halted state rules that would either limit or halt entirely certain abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

A federal court for the Western District of Texas on Monday granted a temporary injunction against the state's order designating most abortions in the state as non-essential procedures. Gov. Greg Abbott on March 22 signed an executive order that halted non-essential surgeries and medical procedures in the state, in order to free up resources for hospitals to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Texas state attorney general Ken Paxton clarified later that the order included most abortions as non-essential procedures, allowing only for abortions when the life or health of the mother was deemed to be at risk.

A coalition of abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project, filed a lawsuit against the executive order saying Paxton's enforcement of the order was a "blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda."

In two other states, Ohio and Alabama, federal judges stopped from going into effect similar state orders that abortions be stopped as non-essential procedures.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have also sued to block similar orders in Iowa and Oklahoma.

On Monday, Paxton stated that he was "deeply disappointed" at the decision and would be seeking appellate review "to ensure that medical professionals on the frontlines have the supplies and protective gear they desperately need." 

In a brief filed with the Western District Court of Texas on Monday, Abbott argued that the state "faces its worst public health emergency in over a century," and that the governor's order would help slow the spread of the coronavirus through unnecessary human contact and free up resources including personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers.

"But Plaintiffs-a collection of abortion clinics and one abortionist physician-ask this Court to grant them a special exemption, claiming a right to deplete or endanger precious PPE resources and hospital capacity in the name of providing abortions. They have no right to special treatment," Paxton argued.

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