U.S. appeals court lifts block on Texas abortion order

by Reuters
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:31 GMT

A imaging table inside the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region, Missouri's sole abortion clinic, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

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Texas is enforcing limits on abortion as part of the state's emergency response to stop the spread of the coronavirus

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By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday temporarily allowed Texas to enforce limits on the ability of women to obtain abortions in the state as part of the state's emergency response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a brief order, a three judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 2-1 vote said it was blocking a federal district judge's order issued on Monday while it weighs how to decide the state's emergency appeal.

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The court action means that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's can enforce his announcement last week that abortion providers were covered by a state order that required postponement of non-urgent medical procedures to preserve hospital beds and equipment.

The fast-moving litigation could reach the conservative-majority Supreme Court in short order.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled on Monday that Paxton's action "prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable."

The Texas lawsuit was filed last Wednesday after clinics said they were forced to cancel hundreds of appointments for abortions across the state.

Abortion providers in Ohio, Iowa, Alabama and Oklahoma filed similar litigation on Monday to block state officials from using coronavirus-related orders to limit abortion availability.

Judges quickly blocked the state actions in Ohio and Alabama, in addition to Texas.

Abortion providers have said the restrictions violate the right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The states have said they have broad powers to issue emergency rules to protect the health and safety of their residents. Texas said in a court filing: "Individual rights, including abortion, may be temporarily curtailed in a time of emergency."

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Andrew Chung Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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