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Aided By 5th Circuit, Texas Continues Running Out the Clock on Pandemic Abortion Seekers

Abortion-rights protesters gathered at the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of SCOTUS' ruling on Texas' last major abortion law, 2013's House Bill 2.EXPAND
Abortion-rights protesters gathered at the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of SCOTUS' ruling on Texas' last major abortion law, 2013's House Bill 2.
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It's starting to look a lot like the final result of the legal battle isn't going to matter very much. Regardless of whether the federal courts finally determine that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did, in fact, have the right to effectively ban abortion during the novel coronavirus pandemic, thousands of Texans who would have otherwise sought an abortion will have been denied the opportunity to do so.

Abbott, along with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, are using the federal appellate process to run out the clock on Texas' abortion providers. Monday afternoon, they got yet another stay from the arch-conservative judges at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The stay ensures that all abortions — except for medication abortions at less than 10 weeks gestation or abortions for Texas women who would be beyond the state's 20-week abortion limit by Wednesday, the date at which Abbott's ban on elective medical procedures is currently set to be replaced by more permissive limitations — would be banned.

Friday, Abbott told reporters that abortion's legality after his elective procedures ban is modified on Wednesday would be up to the courts.

The appeals court panel ruled that the U.S. District Court that twice stayed Abbott's ban overstepped its constitutional authority when it did so.

Abbott and Paxton have argued that the ban saves valuable personal protective equipment and bed space for COVID-19 patients. Anti-abortion advocates have celebrated the ban for the number of abortions it will prevent. Paxton lauded the decision in a statement Monday afternoon.

“I am pleased that the Fifth Circuit once again ruled in favor of the health and safety needs of our communities and hardworking medical professionals during this unprecedented medical crisis. Without exception, Texans must continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “Governor Abbott’s order ensures that hospital beds, supplies and personal protective equipment remain available for the medical professionals on the front lines of this battle.”

Abortion rights groups lamented the confusion the appeals court's new ruling will cause for those seeking abortions.

“The whole world is dealing with this pandemic, but only Texas is dealing with the whiplash from the back and forth of the uncertainty of abortion access. Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton manufactured this abortion access crisis in the middle of a pandemic in order to advance their dangerous ideological agenda, and as a result, thousands of Texans are struggling to access the timely care they need," NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Aimee Arrambide said.

"Despite the fight in the courts, Greg Abbott has the authority at any time to reverse this order and make sure that this time-sensitive procedure is accessible. If he doesn’t, his cruel legacy will be forcing thousands of Texans to remain pregnant when they didn’t want to be.”

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