Abortion Rights Groups Sue Texas Over Coronavirus Abortion Ban

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to the state Senate.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to the state Senate. Texas Attorney General's Office
If you're looking for some normalcy during the novel coronavirus pandemic, here it is: Texas, now as has been the case for the last decade, is getting sued over an abortion restriction. This time, no big surprise, it's Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on all abortions that don't save the would-be mother's life, in effect for as long as his COVID-19 emergency orders are in effect.

As presented by the governor, the emergency orders were about preserving Texas' stock of medical protective equipment and hospital beds by banning all elective surgeries. Pretty soon, Texas pro-life groups started crowing that the order actually banned abortion. They were right, as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made clear Monday.

“We must work together as Texans to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our healthcare professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time,” Paxton said. “No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”

Tuesday night, abortion rights groups and abortion providers sued the state.

“We will not stand by as the governor of Texas and these anti-abortion groups put the health of our patients, and the community, at risk." — Alexis McGill-Johnson

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“We will not stand by as the governor of Texas and these anti-abortion groups put the health of our patients, and the community, at risk," said Alexis McGill-Johnson, acting president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Elected leaders are expending valuable time and resources exploiting a global pandemic to score political points instead of rallying to respond to this crisis. This will place lives in jeopardy. This is a distraction that Americans, including patients we serve in communities nationwide, cannot afford.”

According to the lawsuit, Abbott's order and Paxton's interpretation of it violate the constitutional rights of Texans who might seek an abortion over the coming months.

"At a minimum, those patients will not be able to obtain an abortion for weeks or even months, given that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to last far beyond the order’s stated expiration date (April 21). Some will not be able to access abortion at all and will be forced to carry pregnancies to term," the suit says. "Not only will these patients be deprived of their constitutional right to essential healthcare and self-determination, but forcing them to continue their pregnancies will in fact impose far greater strains on an already-taxed healthcare system, as prenatal care and delivery involve much greater exhaustion of hospital health care services and PPE than abortions. All will be delayed in getting the abortion care they are seeking, with attendant risks to their health, wellbeing, (sic) and economic security. This violates Plaintiffs’ patients’ fundamental constitutional right to decide whether to have an abortion prior to viability."

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology, abortion care is essential healthcare.

"To the extent that hospital systems or ambulatory surgical facilities are categorizing procedures that can be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, abortion should not be categorized as such a procedure," the groups said earlier this month. "Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health and well-being."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young