Texas can block pill-induced abortions during pandemic, federal appeals court says

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An ultrasound machine at women’s health clinic in Austin. Photo credit: Tamir Kalifa for The Texas Tribune

The coronavirus epidemic has become, among other things, a kind of stress test for the procedure of abortion.

Is it “essential?” Or is it “nonessential?”

In the case of Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on April 20 said access to pill-induced abortions can be restricted while the state fights the pandemic.

This represents a reversal, and puts abortion in the “nonessential” category.

The decision is the latest in a quickly evolving court case that has bounced between the conservative appeals court and a federal district judge in Austin, at times amounting to a near-total ban on abortions in Texas, reports the Texas Tribune.

The New Orleans-based appeals court has allowed in previous rulings for the pill-induced abortions to proceed, as well as abortions for women nearing the legal limit to have one in Texas, which is 22 weeks after the last menstrual period.

Medication-induced abortions can be done in Texas through the 10th week of pregnancy. It was not immediately clear how the court’s ruling will apply after April 21, when a strict halt on nonessential surgeries in Texas will be relaxed.

In March, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott halted all procedures not “immediately medically necessary” and the state’s attorney general extended the restriction to abortions, sparking a weekslong court fight and prompting some women to seek abortions out of state.

The appeals court has largely upheld the restrictions. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has sided with abortion providers, however, and said the state’s order “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.”

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