A federal judge blocked parts of Texas' temporary abortion ban on Thursday evening, allowing some procedures to resume despite a prior appeals court decision to uphold the ban amid the coronavirus pandemic. For more than two weeks, the vast majority of abortion services in Texas have been mostly unavailable, marking the first time the procedure has been not legally accessible in a U.S. state for nearly 50 years.
Beginning immediately, clinics in Texas can offer medication abortion, a pregnancy termination method administered by pill and available to patients up to 10 weeks into their pregnancy. Additionally, patients who would be 18 weeks into a pregnancy by April 22 can also legally receive an abortion, because they would be outside the state's gestational limit for the procedure when the ban is set to be lifted."A ban within a limited period becomes a total ban when that period expires. As a minimum, this is an undue burden on a woman's right to a previability abortion," wrote Judge Lee Yaekel, a George W. Bush appointee, in his decision granting a narrow temporary restraining order to Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project.
Thursday's temporary restraining order comes 2 days after a federal appeals court held up Texas' near-total abortion ban, writing that "when faced with a society-threatening epidemic, a state may implement emergency measures that curtail constitutional rights so long as the measures have at least some 'real or substantial relation' to the public health crisis.""We are relieved that, at least for now, Texans can access abortion care again," said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The state of Texas has been trying to end abortion for decades and they are exploiting this pandemic to achieve that goal. Patients in Texas have not been waiting for the courts — those who are able to travel have been leaving the state to get care. Others have tragically been left behind. The need for abortion care doesn't disappear during a pandemic."
In a statement provided to CBS News, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Thursday's ruling "demonstrates a lack of respect for the rule of law."
Texas is among five states facing legal battles over restricting abortion access during the pandemic, and the one furthest along in the judicial process. In a sweep of legal filings last week, a coalition of abortion rights groups challenged similar bans in Alabama, Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma. So far, judges have ordered bans to be at least partially lifted in Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma.