Planned Parenthood recently took legal action against Texas’ lawmakers, challenging the state’s coronavirus abortion ban.
On March 22, Texas Governor Greg Abbott released an executive order limiting medical services to “essential care.” The Texas Medical Board has reportedly clarified that “elective, non-urgent cases” are cases where “there is no anticipated short-term nor long-term negative impact because of delaying a procedure or surgery.”
According to the Governor and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, abortions fall under this umbrella unless the mother’s life is at risk. Based on this determination, all scheduled abortion procedures are to be postponed.
“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers,” Paxton’s office said in a statement. “Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”
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Violations of the executive order reportedly carry penalties of up to $1,000 in fines or up to 180 days in jail. The executive order remains in affect until April 21.
Planned Parenthood and several other providers recently filed a lawsuit against these and other officials, saying the state is taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic in order to limit abortion access. Under the guise of preserving hospital capacity and medical supplies, the governor allegedly singled out “any type of abortion” – even those which involve only taking medication by mouth instead of a surgery or procedure.
The reproductive health providers call this behavior a “blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda, without any benefit to the state in terms of preventing or resolving shortages of PPE or hospital capacity.”
“It’s unconscionable that the Texas Attorney General is exploiting this pandemic to end abortion in the state,” said Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, according to BuzzFeed.
“Abortion care is time-sensitive and essential health care that has a profound impact on a person’s health and life, which is why it is protected as a constitutional right.”
To support their argument, the Planned Parenthood lawsuit points to a joint statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The two groups encouraged state governors and attorney generals to recognize the essential nature of abortions due to their time sensitive consequences.
“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible,” the groups said in a statement.
“The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health and well-being.”
The Planned Parenthood lawsuit argues that delaying abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic could be detrimental to patient health. Although it is unknown whether or not COVID-19 can have complication for pregnancy, the ACOG notes that pregnant woman do carry a higher risk of death from similar respiratory infections such as influenza and SARS. Based on this, the college argues that pregnant woman should be considered an at risk population – reinforcing Planned Parenthood’s argument that abortion services are essential care.
In the abortion lawsuit, Planned Parenthood also argues that the right to terminate a pregnancy has been recognized as a fundamental constitutional right since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The Texas executive order allegedly infringes on this constitutional right.
Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit seeks an emergency injunction based on the alleged violations by Texas officials. According to the company, they will be unable to treat patients in need for weeks or even months without injunctive relief.
“Not only will these patients be deprived of their constitutional right to essential healthcare and self-determination, but forcing them to continue their pregnancies will in fact impose far greater strains on an already-taxed healthcare system, as prenatal care and delivery involve much greater exhaustion of hospital health care services and PPE than abortions,” the Planned Parenthood lawsuit argues.
Planned Parenthood is represented in house by Julie Murray, Alice Clapman, Richard Muniz, Hannah Swanson, and Jennfier Sandman of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Other plaintiffs are represented by Patrick J. O’Connell of the Law Offices of Patrick J. O’Connell PLLC; Molly Duane, Rabia Muqaddam, and Francesca Cocuzza of the Center for Reproductive Rights; and Stephanie Toti, Rupali Sharma, and Sneha Shah of the Lawyering Project.
The Planned Parenthood Lawsuit is Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, et al. Greg Abbott, et al., Case No. 1:20-cv-323, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
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