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Abortion Clinics Ask Supreme Court to Ease Texas Limits
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Texas abortion clinics sought emergency Supreme Court intervention to ease sweeping restrictions on the procedure imposed by state officials during the coronavirus crisis.
The filing came after a federal appeals court let the state block most abortions as way to conserve masks and gloves needed to protect health-care workers from the virus.
It’s the second emergency coronavirus case to reach the conservative-controlled high court in recent days.
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On April 6, a sharply divided court sided with Republicans by requiring absentee ballots for Wisconsin’s presidential primary to be mailed by election day, April 7. In dissent, the court’s four liberals said failing to allow an extension would force tens of thousands of people to either forfeit their voting rights or risk their health by going to the polls.
The abortion ban stems from Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s March 22 order barring all non-essential surgeries in Texas until at least April 21. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton then said he would enforce the prohibition against abortion clinics.
Clinics sued, and the dispute began traveling up and down the court system. After a federal trial judge temporarily blocked the ban, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it on a 2-1 vote.
The trial judge then issued a narrower order allowing pill-induced abortions as well as surgical abortions for women who are so far along in pregnancy they might otherwise pass Texas’s legal limit of 22 weeks. The same appeals court panel then blocked the pill-induced abortions, while allowing procedures for women approaching their 22nd week.
Under Supreme Court precedent, “all constitutional rights may be reasonably restricted to combat a public health emergency,” Judge Kyle Duncan, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote for the 5th Circuit majority in an April 7 ruling.
Duncan said the clinics would need to provide evidence that gloves and other personal protective equipment aren’t being used for pill-induced abortions.
But Judge James Dennis said in dissent that the ruling “inflicts further panic and fear on women in Texas by depriving them, without justification, of their constitutional rights, exposing them to 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 governor’s ban on non-essential surgeries makes an exception for patients at risk of “serious adverse medical consequences or death.” The order carries criminal penalties for violators.
Court decisions have let abortions continue in other states where officials sought to block them during the coronavirus pandemic.
The case will test a Supreme Court that became more conservative on abortion when Justice Brett Kavanaugh took his seat in 2018. Since then, the justices have moved cautiously on the subject, though they are scheduled to rule in the coming months on Louisiana’s requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
The latest request was filed with Justice Samuel Alito, a Republican appointee who handles emergency matters from Texas. Alito could act on his own or, as is typical in controversial matters, refer the issue to the full nine-member court.