Despite Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton's best efforts to make hay while the coronavirus spreads, abortion remains as legal in Texas as it was before the virus hit, following a temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel.
A little more than a week ago, Abbott banned all elective medical and dental procedures, ostensibly in an effort to preserve the state's supply of personal protective equipment for medical professionals, in addition to the state's other healthcare resources.
Abbott didn't say anything about abortion at the time, but Paxton soon made it clear that, as far as Texas' Republican leadership was concerned, the elective procedures ban included abortions that weren't needed to save a pregnant person's life.
“Medical professionals are in dire need of supplies, and abortion providers who refuse to follow state law are demonstrating a clear disregard for Texans suffering from this medical crisis,” Paxton said Monday. “All Texans must work together to stop the spread of COVID-19. My office will continue to defend Gov. Abbott’s order to ensure that supplies and personal protective gear reach the hardworking medical professionals who need it the most during this health crisis.”
Paxton's argument, essentially, is that — the opinions of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology notwithstanding — abortion is not essential healthcare.
Monday afternoon, Yeakel wrote that Planned Parenthood and the other organizations that sued Texas to stop the ban were likely to prevail over the course of full trial.
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"Regarding a woman's right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion, the Supreme Court has spoken clearly. There can be no outright ban on such a procedure. This court will not speculate on whether the Supreme Court included a silent 'except-in-a-national-emergency clause' in its previous writings on the issue," Yeakel writes. "Only the Supreme Court may restrict the breadth of its rulings. The court will not predict what the Supreme Court will do if this case reaches that Court. For now, the State Defendants, and perhaps the others, agree that the Executive Order bans all pre-fetal-viability abortions. This is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent. Plaintiffs have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their action."
Planned Parenthood officials said after the ruling that it was time for Texas to move on.
"Let’s put healthcare first and get back to work. The priority of Planned Parenthood health centers is ensuring that every person can access essential healthcare 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," said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The judge's ruling blocks Paxton and Abbott's ban until at least April 13. A telephone hearing is scheduled that day to argue the merits of a further injunction being issued in the case.