News & Politics

Planned Parenthood Asks Supreme Court to Strike Down Texas Coronavirus Ban on Abortion

A pro-abortion rights supporter holds up a sign that reads "My Body. My Choice" during a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Lawyers representing major abortion providers in Texas have appealed to the Supreme Court to lift the ban placed on the procedure by Governor Greg Abbott, who cited the coronavirus pandemic as a reason.

Abbott’s reasoning is that abortion is an elective surgery and supplies used to perform an abortion are vitally needed for hospitals and other medical needs.

Pro-abortion groups counter that no medical supplies are needed to hand out a pill and that forcing a woman to wait months to get a surgical abortion would use far more medical resources.

Similar bans on abortion have been blocked by courts in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio.


“Even in a national emergency, courts need to look at whether state actions are actually furthering safety and public health enough to justify infringing on constitutional rights,” said Molly Duane, a staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, another group representing Texas clinics in the case. “People don’t stop needing abortions just because there’s a pandemic and constitutional rights don’t cease to exist just because there’s a pandemic.”

The Texas ban has already gone through several legal proceedings, most recently, an appeals court overturned a judge’s order that said banning abortion puts women’s lives at risk. Planned Parenthood is asking the Supreme Court to modify Abbott’s decree.

In a 374-page petition filed Saturday night, the clinics ask the high court to reinstate U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel’s second ruling, which would have narrowed the Texas ban to allow medication abortions as well as surgical abortions for people who would be unable to obtain one under state law if the procedure was further delayed. Attorneys representing Planned Parenthood’s Texas affiliate and other clinics say that patients will suffer “irreparable harm” if the state’s ban isn’t eased.

It will depend on how the Supreme Court views the issue. If the plaintiffs successfully convince the Court that this is a constitutional issue of abortion rights, they may win. But if the state can argue successfully that it’s a public health issue, the Court almost always sides with the government in those cases.

Denise Harle, senior council at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group involved in legal challenges to abortion access around the country, argued the court would uphold coronavirus-related bans because they were enacted on a temporary basis. The end dates for some bans are just a few weeks away, thought they could be extended as the pandemic rages on.

“No one is saying that these orders can go on forever,” Harle said. “But so many of our constitutional rights – our right to travel, to assemble and gather and do all sorts of things – are limited right now, temporarily.”

The Court heard arguments last month on a common-sense Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. An appeals court struck that down and the state has brought it to the high Court.

Apparently, the concern of abortion rights groups for the health of women extends only so far.

But that law does not directly challenge the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade (1973). Justices must await a more clarifying case working its way through appeals before changing the abortion landscape forever.