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Texas' Abortion Ban Is Halted By A Federal Court – Again

Gabriel C. Pérez

A federal court has – yet again – temporarily halted Texas’ ban on abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued on order last month banning  procedures that are “not immediately medically necessary” during the outbreak, which he said includes abortions.

On Thursday, the U.S. District Court in Austin said the order constitutes “an absolute ban” on abortions in Texas and that women could suffer "irreparable harm."

“When a temporary delay reaches 22 weeks [of last menstrual period], the ban is not temporary, it is absolute,” Judge Lee Yeakel wrote. “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.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the ruling a "temporary sigh of relief" for some women.

"We know that abortion is essential because it is time-sensitive care that cannot wait," she said in a statement. "Gov. Abbott should stop trying to force Texans into unconscionable choices: to travel long distances and increase their risk of exposure to the new coronavirus or carry a forced pregnancy."

Abortion providers sued the state in late March and a court agreed to temporarily halt the ban. Shortly after that ruling, however, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted that court order and overturned it last week.

Providers in Texas have said the state’s ban has  forced them to cancel hundreds of appointments across the state. They say many of women will be forced to have the procedure later in their pregnancies and, in many cases, forced to carry out a pregnancy.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement the ruling "demonstrates a lack of respect for the rule of law" and that the state would appeal to the Fifth Circuit again.

This story has been updated. 

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Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.