Today a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order that will allow abortion facilitators to continue operating without penalty amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Governor Abbott issued an emergency order that required the postponement of all non-essential surgeries to increase the number of hospital beds and personal protective equipment (PPE) in preparation for the spread of COVID-19.
Although not explicitly mentioned in the order, Attorney General Ken Paxton clarified the following day that the requirements applied equally to abortion.
The order became effective on March 22 and will last through April 21.
Penalties for violating the order include a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 180 days of jail time.
Several abortion providers filed a lawsuit on March 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, requesting a ruling to strike down Abbott’s order and Paxton’s interpretation as it relates to abortion, as well as a restraining order to prevent enforcement of the order until a ruling is made.
They argued that the order and interpretation violate the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically its due process and equal protection clauses.
Paxton submitted a brief to the court earlier today, arguing that the continued operation of abortion facilities would limit the amount of available PPE, could affect hospitals in cases of procedural complications, and would contribute to the spread of the virus.
Texas Right to Life conducted a survey of abortion facilities on March 25, finding that “23 of Texas’s 24 abortion mills have entirely ceased committing abortions, and seven of those clinics have temporarily closed their doors completely.”
On Monday, Judge Earl Leroy Yeakel III granted the temporary restraining order, which is set to expire on April 13 after a telephonic hearing for the preliminary injunction.
“The benefits of a limited potential reduction in the use of some personal protective equipment by abortion providers is outweighed by the harm of eliminating abortion access in the midst of a pandemic that increases the risks of continuing an unwanted pregnancy, as well as the risks of traveling to other states in search of time-sensitive medical care. The court finds that a temporary restraining order will not disserve the public interest,” wrote Yeakel.
“We are disappointed in the court’s decision. We’ll seek appellate review promptly,” said Marc Rylander, Paxton’s director of communications.
Yeakel previously ruled in favor of abortion facilitators in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.