Federal appeals court upholds Texas ban on most abortions amid coronavirus outbreak

An appeals court upheld an almost total ban on abortion in the state of Texas Friday, the latest flip flop in a dizzying case.

A panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has battled with a Texas federal court for days over a decision by Republican Governor Greg Abbott to categorize abortion as a “non-essential” elective surgery as the state battles the coronavirus. On Friday, the appeals court again affirmed that emergency decision just a day after the federal court had blocked some parts of the ban, CBS reported.

Appeals court upholds Texas abortion ban

Gov. Abbott issued an executive order in March declaring all “non-essential” procedures banned, and the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, later said that abortion was in that category, except when the mother’s life is threatened. Planned Parenthood sued the state, and Texas District Court Judge Lee Yaekel struck down the abortion ban last week, setting off a tortuous legal fight.

The same judge tried to strike down parts of the abortion ban Thursday after the Fifth Circuit reversed his decision, arguing in a 2-1 ruling on Tuesday that “constitutional rights may be reasonably restricted ‘as the safety of the general public may demand.'” A day before his decision was partially reversed, Judge Yaekel allowed abortion clinics to perform medication abortions and surgical abortions for pregnancies that would be past the legal 22-month limit after the emergency ban is lifted.

“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 pre-viability abortion,” Yaekel wrote.

On Friday, AG Paxton appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which re-iterated the ban with one exception. The three-judge panel allowed the exception for abortions that would be illegal after April 22, when the executive order ends.

“Having already painstakingly explained those standards in our opinion, we reiterate our holding: [W]hen faced with a society-threatening epidemic, a state may implement emergency measures that curtail constitutional rights so long as the measures have at least some ‘real or substantial relation’ to the public health crisis and are not ‘beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law,'” the judges wrote.

Planned Parenthood condemns

Planned Parenthood is outraged by the restrictions, declaring them a draconian incursion on the “essential” freedom to kill an unborn child. This, even as thousands of Americans have died and there has been widespread concern about a shortage of medical equipment in health centers around the country — the very reason for Abbott’s executive order.

In his own statement announcing the appeal Friday, Paxton accused Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers of “demanding special treatment” and “withholding desperately needed medical supplies” to fight the virus. He slammed abortion zealots for trying to have it both ways by calling abortion both a “choice” and an “essential” procedure.

But according to Planned Parenthood, abortion clinics had begun resuming procedures Thursday that had to be canceled the next day, thanks to “whiplash” from Gov. Abbott’s tyranny. The horror. “Abortion is essential because it is time-sensitive. It cannot wait for lengthy legal battles or a pandemic to pass. This political game will have a lasting consequence on Texans for generations to come,” a statement from Abigail Johnson, acting president, read in part.

Particularly as America suffers a genuine health care crisis, this sentiment is positively ghoulish.

Court watchers expect this controversy to eventually reach the Supreme Court.

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