By Nate Raymond and Andrew Chung
(Reuters) – Texas will allow abortions to resume following a legal battle over whether the Republican-governed state could enact a near-total ban on the procedure to preserve supplies of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state in a filing late on Wednesday told a federal judge in Austin, Texas, that a new executive order by Republican Governor Greg Abbott regarding elective medical procedures provided exemptions that would allow abortions to not be postponed.
The order allows healthcare facilities to resume elective medical procedures if they agree to reserve hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients and not request personal protective equipment from public sources during the coronavirus crisis.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office said because the abortion providers challenging an earlier, stricter order by Abbott that expired on Tuesday have certified their compliance with the exemptions, there “is no case or controversy remaining.”
The abortion providers included Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood, which in an email on Thursday said the new order “allows patients – once again – to get an abortion in the state.”
Texas is one of several conservative states that have sought limits on abortion through broad restrictions on non-emergency procedures aimed at freeing up medical resources to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
In late March, Abbott issued an executive order aimed at addressing concerns about hospital capacity during the coronavirus pandemic by prohibiting medical procedures not immediately necessary.
Paxton subsequently announced that he interpreted the order as applying to abortion providers as well and said they should postpone any abortions that are not necessary to preserve a woman’s life and health.
In a lawsuit, Planned Parenthood clinic operators and other abortion providers argued that the abortion ban would run contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to obtain an abortion.
A federal judge initially blocked the state from enforcing the near-total ban on surgical and medication-induced abortions, but a federal appeals court reversed that ruling.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin then narrowed his temporary restraining order, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned his decision to allow medication-induced abortions to proceed.
The court at that time left in place a portion of Yeakel’s decision that prevented the state from banning surgical abortions for women who would be past the legal limit for the procedure by the time Abbott’s order expired.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)