Abortions are legal in Texas, rules federal judge again

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s cat-and-mouse game over reproductive rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic continues. On Thursday, a federal judge — once again — halted the state’s temporary ban on abortions, with some conditions.

Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott kicked off the ban last month when the governor issued an executive order prohibiting nonessential medical procedures to help free up hospital space. A day later, Paxton clarified that abortions were considered medically unnecessary surgeries under Abbott’s new orders, effectively banning abortion during the outbreak. Planned Parenthood and other state health clinics quickly filed a lawsuit asking for the ban to be struck down.

Last week, a federal judge sided with abortion providers and temporarily blocked the ban, arguing that the Supreme Court has spoken clearly on the issue already. A federal appeals court overruled that decision on Tuesday, siding with Abbott and Paxton in reinstating the ban. 

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel — the same judge who sided with abortion providers in first blocking the ban last week — did so again.

Judge Yeakel rebuffed the argument cited by the appeals court which said individual rights could be “reasonably restricted” during a public health crisis. Yeakel argued the state’s temporary ban on abortions actually functioned as a permanent ban for women approaching 22 weeks into their pregnancy (Texas prohibits abortion starting 22 weeks after a patient’s last menstrual period). 

“A ban within a limited period becomes a total ban when that period expires,” Yeakel wrote of the 22-week time limit. “As a minimum, this is an undue burden on a woman’s right to a pre-viability abortion.”

The new restraining order granted by the federal judge will allow Texans to receive time-sensitive abortions as well as medication abortions, or abortions produced by medication rather than surgery during the pandemic. 

Paxton has vowed to ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to re-uphold the ban.

Photo: Hourick/Wikimedia Commons

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