Judge Lee Yeakel, who serves on the United States District Court for Western District of Texas, ruled Monday that abortion clinics must temporarily remain open and cannot be prohibited from performing non-medically necessary abortions as a public health measure.
According to Politico, Judge Yeakel maintained that the Supreme Court has already ruled against enshrining an “outright ban” on abortions, and equated the state’s desire to limit access to the procedure to an effective ban.
“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,” said Judge Yeakel, reports the news agency.
“This court will not speculate on whether the Supreme Court included a silent ‘except-in-a-national-emergency clause’ in its previous writings on the issue,” said Judge Yeakel.
The New York Times reports that the procedure has been given temporary amnesty within the state until the courts can fully decide whether temporary abortion bans on non-medically necessary abortions can continue amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Gov. Gregg Abbott (R-TX) temporarily banned abortion clinics from continuing to perform them, arguing that such procedures were “non-essential” and that allowing them to continue would unnecessarily diminish the state’s medical supplies.
As NBC News reports, multiple states have enacted emergency policies that prohibit abortion clinics from performing them during the coronavirus pandemic, but the policies have been challenged by abortion advocates.
“We cannot let anti-abortion activists dictate public health policy. A global pandemic is not an excuse to attack essential, time-sensitive medical procedures like abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, the organization that filed the lawsuit against Texas, reports the news agency.
“These political distractions cost valuable time and resources that our state and federal officials cannot afford to waste,” said McGill Johnson. “Abortion is essential and patients who need this care cannot wait. This is what it’s come down to: court battles just so doctors and nurses can care for patients during a public health crisis. Anti-abortion activists have gone too far.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has pushed back against Planned Parenthood, pointing out that abortion advocates have repeatedly maintained that abortion is a “choice” and should thus be considered an elective procedure, not an essential one.
“It is unconscionable that abortion providers are fighting against the health of Texans and withholding desperately needed supplies and personal protective equipment in favor of a procedure that they refer to as a ‘choice,’” said Paxton.
“My office will tirelessly defend Governor Abbott’s Order to ensure that necessary supplies reach the medical professionals combating this national health crisis,” said the attorney general.
Politico reports that the abortion ban will be put on hold in Texas until April 13, preventing the state from levying the $1,000 fine or 6 months in jail for providers who continue to perform abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.
At this time, however, it is currently unclear when the courts will determine whether the temporary abortion ban will be allowed to continue.