Updated Apr 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Federal court temporarily blocks coronavirus order against some abortions


Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Thursday that clinics in Texas can immediately offer medication abortions — a pregnancy termination method administered by pill — and can also provide the procedure to patients nearing the state's time limits for abortions.

Driving the news: The decision comes after federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Tuesday in favor of an executive order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Reality check: Texas is expected to take this case back to the 5th Circuit, which two days ago vacated the district judge's first temporary restraining order blocking the state's COVID-19-related abortion ban.

The big picture: Abbott last month issued the order banning elective procedures in an effort to save medical supplies like masks and gowns for health workers treating the coronavirus. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton noted one day later that the order applied to abortions — unless the woman's life is at risk.

  • U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel had ruled against the order last week, arguing that the prohibitions amounted to a ban on a woman's right to an abortion.
  • But a federal appeals court in Texas ruled 2-1 in favor of an executive order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday.

Citing previous rulings, the two majority judges on the appeals court argued: "'[U]nder the pressure of great dangers,' constitutional rights may be reasonably restricted 'as the safety of the general public may demand.'"

  • "That settled rule allows states to restrict, for example, one's right to peacefully assemble, to publicly worship, to travel, and even to leave one's home. The right to abortion is no exception."

The dissenting judge countered: "In a time where panic and fear already consume our daily lives, the majority’s opinion inflicts further panic and fear on women in Texas by depriving them, without justification, of their constitutional rights."

Read the full ruling.

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