Appeals court allows Texas to ban abortions during pandemic

 

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Texas can temporarily enforce a ban on abortions as part of its coronavirus response.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on a ruling from a lower court that had blocked Texas from enforcing the ban. State officials argue the ban is intended to conserve medical supplies for health workers on the front lines of the coronavirus response. But abortion rights advocates say states are using the pandemic as an excuse to block access.

In a 2-1 opinion, the appeals court ruled that the order from the lower court be stayed until an appeal from Texas is considered. The two judges who ruled in favor of a stay were nominated to their posts by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE and former President George W. Bush.

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"The temporary stay ordered this afternoon justly prioritizes supplies and personal protective equipment for the medical professionals in need," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. 

Circuit Court Judge James Dennis, a Clinton appointee, dissented, writing “a federal judge has already concluded that irreparable harm would flow from allowing the executive order to prohibit abortions during this critical time.” 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a directive earlier this month suspending nonessential medical procedures in an effort to conserve masks and gloves for health workers on the front lines of the pandemic. 

Several states have issued similar orders, but a divide has emerged between red and blue states about whether abortion is an essential procedure.

Abbott’s order didn’t specifically lay out which procedures are nonessential. But Paxton later said that abortion is a nonessential procedure that should be halted during the outbreak, leading clinics in the state to cancel appointments or face criminal penalties and fines.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit against Texas last week, and U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee, on Monday blocked Texas from enforcing the ban, writing that it is likely unconstitutional. 

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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,” he wrote in his order authorizing a temporary restraining order. 

Similar orders were blocked by federal judges in Ohio and Alabama on Monday. 

John Kruzel contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:04 p.m.