Abortion Providers Sue Texas Over Coronavirus Order

Abortions are paused in the state after the governor deemed them a nonessential procedure.
Marva Sadler prepares the operating room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sept. 4, 2019.
Marva Sadler prepares the operating room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sept. 4, 2019.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

A coalition of abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday, challenging his ban on abortions during the coronavirus crisis.

The groups — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project — are asking the court to issue an immediate temporary restraining order to block the ban from taking effect.

On Monday, Abbott’s administration ordered abortion providers to postpone all abortions that are not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the patient, ostensibly to conserve medical supplies as health care facilities are flooded with coronavirus patients. The Texas attorney general warned that providers who violate the order could face a fine of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.

The abortion providers said that they were forced to go to court after Abbott “used the COVID-19 crisis to block access to essential, time-sensitive abortion procedures.”

All abortion providers in the state have now stopped offering both surgical and medication abortions, according to a press call on Wednesday night.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, which runs three clinics in Texas, said they had to cancel at least 150 appointments on Monday alone.

“Abortion is essential health care, and it is a time-sensitive service, most especially now in this public health crisis when many people are already financially insecure and futures are uncertain,” she said. “We cannot sit idly by while the state is forcing Texans to be pregnant against their will.”

She noted that communities of color, young people and poorer people will disproportionally feel the impact of the new Texas policy.

Abortion access is already imperiled in Texas, where half of clinics have closed under state pressure since 2012. These days, many people seeking abortions must drive hundreds of miles for care.

“We cannot sit idly by while the state is forcing Texans to be pregnant against their will.”

- Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health

Across the country, states are asking health care facilities to cancel elective medical procedures to ensure that there are enough supplies to manage the surge of coronavirus cases sweeping the nation. But most states have deemed abortion an essential service, not an elective one. To date, only Texas, Ohio and Mississippi have publicly categorized abortion as a nonessential, elective procedure, although anti-abortion groups are urging state leaders to halt abortion entirely.

Daniel Grossman, an OB/GYN and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, tweeted Wednesday that cracking down on abortion won’t actually help conserve medical equipment.

“It’s important to recognize that if a pregnant person continues their pregnancy, they end up using a lot more gloves, gowns, and masks than with abortion,” he wrote. “Using a pandemic, and the need for personal protective equipment, to ban abortion is not a legitimate argument—as the data prove. This is just another attempt to circumvent the law and make abortion inaccessible for all, particularly during a global public health crisis.”

Medical experts, including at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, have implored leaders to categorize abortion as an essential, time-sensitive procedure that cannot be delayed without serious consequences.

“It’s unconscionable that the Texas Attorney General is exploiting this pandemic to end abortion in the state,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Texas is abusing the state’s emergency powers and we are filing suit today to stop it.”

Alexis McGill-Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that her priority was to make sure that every person can access essential health care while also conserving needed resources.

“A global pandemic is not some kind of opening to attack abortion,” she said. “Gov. Abbott and anti-abortion activists nationwide are forcing a legal and political fight in the middle of a public health crisis.”

Are you trying to get an abortion during the coronavirus outbreak? We want to hear from you. Email reporter Melissa Jeltsen at melissa.jeltsen@huffpost.com.

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