Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Federal Courts Enjoin States' Attempts to Prohibit Exercise of Abortion Rights During Coronavirus Pandemic
Federal judges on Monday blocked officials in Texas, Ohio and Alabama from banning most abortions in those states as part of their orders to postpone surgeries and other procedures deemed not medically necessary during the coronavirus crisis.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled 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 is essential healthcare, and it’s a time-sensitive service, especially during a public health crisis,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider with three clinics in Texas and a plaintiff in the case.
Dahlia Lithwick, Federal Judges Block Texas and Ohio Coronavirus Abortion Bans
There was bad news on Monday for states trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to halt abortions: Two federal judges ruled that pretextual pretexts are just pretexts. Clinics in Ohio and Texas will remain open, at least for the time being. As my colleague Christina Cauterucci reported last week, Republican governors in both Ohio and Texas tried opportunistically to halt abortions in their states by claiming that the procedures are not-essential and that states should redirect personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, away from clinics so they can better serve coronavirus patients. Of course, women actually need abortion services even more during such crises, clinics don’t use most of the essential medical equipment necessary to fight the virus, and most abortions are time-sensitive procedures that can’t be delayed indefinitely.Texas and Ohio weren’t alone, though. Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma had all recently moved to suspend abortion access using the same excuses. The Texas guidance, which was particularly draconian, would have applied to “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life of the mother,” and violations would include a $1,000 fine or up to 180 days in jail. Meanwhile, Ohio’s deputy attorney general, Jonathan Fulkerson, had sent letters to a handful of abortion clinics accusing them of violating the Ohio order, but the clinics had replied that they were in compliance and continued to perform procedures.Two of these suits have already paid dividends. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel lifted Texas’ restriction on abortion just a few hours before Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett enjoined Ohio officials from implementing their ban. In his opinion judge Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee, found that Texas’ attempt to shut down abortions would cause “irreparable harm” to abortion clinics and their patients, and rested his decision in the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy: “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,” Yeakel wrote. “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.”
Federal judges for now blocked Texas, Ohio and Alabama from curbing most abortions amid the new coronavirus pandemic, after the states recently cited the need to preserve medical equipment and public health as reasons to halt the procedure.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett ruled that Ohio's abortion clinics could perform surgical abortions if they could not be delayed because of a medical condition or the delay would prevent the abortion under Ohio law.
The Ohio Department of Health had threatened to apply the ban on all elective surgeries to surgical abortions, effectively banning all abortions after 10 weeks gestation, according to a motion filed by Ohio's surgical abortion clinics, including Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, on Monday.
Barrett, who granted the temporary restraining order later for 14 days, said the state had not proven that performing surgical abortions would "result in any beneficial amount of net saving of PPE (personal protective equipment) in Ohio such that the net saving of PPE outweighs the harm of eliminating abortion," Barrett wrote.
State officials in Iowa and Ohio were hit with lawsuits on Monday over their decisions to ban abortion during the coronavirus outbreak.
Both states recently deemed abortion a nonessential surgical procedure that must be deferred or canceled in order to preserve medical supplies for the pandemic.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Ohio are asking district courts to immediately restore abortion access, arguing that it’s an essential, time-sensitive procedure that has been improperly categorized as elective.
A growing number of states largely governed by Republicans are using the coronavirus outbreak to crack down on abortion. In addition to Ohio and Iowa, Texas and Mississippi have ordered health care facilities to stop providing abortions.***
Leading medical experts, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology have urged state leaders to classify abortion as a time-sensitive, essential medical procedure that cannot be delayed.