WASHINGTON — Abortion clinics in Texas can keep operating, a federal judge ruled on Monday, a week after the state’s attorney general said abortion was among the nonessential surgeries and medical procedures that had to be delayed because of the coronavirus.
The decision was a win for abortion providers, which had been scrambling to block similar restrictions in other states. Lawyers for clinics filed suit on Monday in Alabama, Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma, states that had tried to include abortion in medical procedures that had to be delayed to preserve protective gear for medical workers.
In his decision, Judge Lee Yeakel of United States District Court for the Western District of Texas wrote that he was granting a request from clinics to temporarily prevent the policy from taking effect. He argued that it amounted to a ban on abortion, and on that topic, he wrote, “the Supreme Court has spoken clearly. There can be no outright ban on such a procedure.”
The judge’s ruling temporarily blocks the order on abortion from taking effect while the lawsuit takes its course through the court system. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas did not respond when asked whether the office would appeal the judge’s ruling.
Clinics welcomed the decision and said they were hopeful the outcome in Texas would set a trend.
“This ruling sends a message to other states: Using this pandemic to ban abortion access is unconstitutional,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing clinics in Texas and Oklahoma, said in a statement. “Abortion care is time-sensitive and essential health care that has a profound impact on a person’s health and life, which is why it is protected as a constitutional right.”
States around the country have rushed in recent weeks to put emergency measures in place to protect precious medical equipment and gear as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the nation.
This has included a temporary ban on medical procedures deemed nonessential, including certain kinds of dental work and orthopedic surgeries. In several states with Republican legislatures where anti-abortion groups are powerful, abortion was included.
Groups including Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that political leaders were using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict abortion access.