By Andrew Chung
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday allowed Texas to enforce curbs on medication-induced abortions as part of the Republican-governed state’s restrictions aimed at postponing medical procedures not deemed urgent during the coronavirus pandemic.
The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a federal judge’s order blocking the state from applying restrictions to abortions induced through medication, in the early stages of a pregnancy. About half of all abortions in the state are performed through medication, which involves taking two pills by mouth.
The judge had also prevented the state from banning surgical abortions for women who would be past the legal limit for the procedure by the time the coronavirus-related emergency order is set to expire, at the end of the day on Tuesday. The 5th Circuit allowed that portion of the judge’s order to remain in effect.
Texas is one of several conservative states that have tried to impose limits on abortion during the pandemic, saying they are seeking to ensure that medical resources including protective equipment are available to help healthcare facilities cope with people with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
Abortion rights advocates have accused the states of political opportunism by using the pandemic to advance anti-abortion policies.
The abortion providers – including Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood – sued Texas on March 25, calling the restrictions a violation of the right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The abortion providers said medication abortion should not be halted because it is not a procedure at all and does not require the use of protective equipment.
The state disputed that contention, saying that medication abortion is a procedure and that protective equipment is used as part of the physical exams and follow-up exams or if there are complications requiring an emergency room visit.
In Monday’s ruling, the 5th Circuit said that in blocking the state’s actions to postpone abortions during the pandemic, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin usurped the state’s authority “to craft emergency public health measures.”
(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)