Paxton has no authority to enforce pandemic abortion ban, say Texas lawmakers

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In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, 40 members of the Texas House and Senate raised serious issues with the state’s temporary ban on abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are writing to express our extreme concern about Attorney General Ken Paxton’s press release banning abortion despite the Attorney General having no authority to enforce this ban,” began the letter. 

“Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care that cannot be put off without profound consequences,” it continued.

Last month, Abbott issued an executive order temporarily prohibiting medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures. A day later, Paxton issued a news release clarifying — or rather interpreting — Abbott’s order to include abortion. Shortly after, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers sued the state and a series of legal battles ensued in federal courts. 

For now, medically necessary abortions are allowed to continue, along with medical abortions (abortions induced by taking medicine) and abortions nearing the state’s 22-week legal limit. 

The letter sent by Democrats on Tuesday went on to urge Abbott to ease state restrictions and regulations typically required in Texas’ reproductive health care. Among the suggested changes, lawmakers said in-person follow-up appointments required after a medical abortion should be allowed to be done remotely. They also said health care providers should be able to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs via telemedicine.

“Suspending these medically unnecessary requirements would allow Texans to receive safe, timely care under medical supervision, avoid unnecessary trips and exposure to possible viral transmission, prevent unnecessary exposure to medical personnel and unnecessary use of personal protective equipment,” lawmakers said.

The same day as the letter, abortion providers and reproductive rights groups suing the state withdrew their request for the Supreme Court to overturn Abbott’s order. The decision follows a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday that allowed medical abortions to continue during the pandemic. Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and other plaintiffs in the suit will continue to fight the governor’s order at the district court level, according to Politico.

In a statement following that victory, Alexis McGill Johnson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the ruling provided only temporary relief and warned that many Texans could still not access time-sensitive abortions.

“As people try and navigate their new realities under a pandemic — job loss, quarantining with abusive partners, or still having to work essential jobs — we need more abortion access, not less. This fight is far from over,” Johnson said.

Photo: Getty Images

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