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April 23

Texas’ abortion ban has been lifted, and Texas women have regained a measure of control over their bodies. 

Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order blocking women from exercising their constitutional right to abortion care has expired, and his new order includes a pathway for us to once again provide both medication and surgical abortion services.

Statement from Jeffrey Hons, President & CEO, Planned Parenthood South Texas

“At Planned Parenthood, our patients come first. Now that we can resume providing abortion, we can refocus on the patients counting on us for this time-sensitive health care. These past four weeks have been an absolute nightmare for Texans needing to access abortion. The Governor’s exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to travel out of state and put their health at risk. 

The priority of Planned Parenthood health centers has always been the health and safety of our patients, staff, and community. Since the onset of this crisis, we have done our part to promote best practices that reduce the transmission of the coronavirus and conserve needed resources. Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider, and our doors remain open for those needing care.”

Over the past month, the governor’s political posturing caused fear and hardship for women that can’t be undone. It’s unconscionable. But for the moment at least, the legal battle is over and we can return to our mission of caring for our community, no matter what. In addition to providing abortion care at two locations in San Antonio, we are providing birth control, cervical cancer screening and treatment, STI testing and treatment, transgender hormone therapy and other essential health care at all our South Texas health centers. Texans have counted on us for more than 80 years and even a pandemic can’t stop that. Indeed, Texans are relying on us more than ever.

 

April 14

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Restores Medication Abortion in Texas, For Now

Decision comes two days after abortion providers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore Texans’ access to medication abortion

Despite the 5th Circuit’s reversal, many patients still cannot access time-sensitive abortion care

April 14, 2020 - Late Monday night, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals backed down from its stay of a lower court’s temporary restraining order that had protected access to medication abortions under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 order banning “non-essential procedures.” This means medication abortions —  a two-pill process — are once again accessible in Texas, for now. 

Last week, for a second time, the 5th Circuit blocked a temporary restraining order, making abortion largely inaccessible across the state. The appeals court ruled so quickly, it didn’t even allow providers to respond. In response, the abortion providers — represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America — asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore access to medication abortion. Only after that did the 5th Circuit ask the parties to further explain whether medication abortion is a “procedure.” This, despite the providers submission of numerous briefs in both the trial and appellate courts over the past few weeks making clear medication abortion is not a “procedure.” 

Consistent with all of its briefings in the case, including several to the 5th Circuit, abortion providers — including Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Planned Parenthood South Texas Surgical Center, Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, and Austin Women’s Health Center — once again explained that medication abortion consists of two pills that can be provided without any personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Even with the 5th Circuit backing down and allowing medication abortions under Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 order, abortion procedures remain unavailable to Texas patients unless their gestational age would exceed the state’s legal limit by April 22 (one day after Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 order expires).

 

April 11

We're taking our fight to the Supreme Court

Texas abortion providers — represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America — asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore essential, time-sensitive medication abortion services while the case proceeds. This comes after Gov. Greg Abbott tried to block virtually all abortion services through his COVID-19 order. The emergency request comes after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted most of the state’s request to stay a federal district court’s second temporary restraining order. Under the 5th Circuit’s latest ruling, only patients who will be over the state’s gestational age cutoff by April 22 (the day after Gov. Abbott’s executive order lifts) can access an abortion procedure. 

For almost three weeks, providers — including Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Planned Parenthood South Texas Surgical Center, Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, and Austin Women’s Health Center — have had to cancel appointments for hundreds of patients while Gov. Abbott continues to exploit a pandemic in order to score political points.

Meanwhile, leading medical experts, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology told the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that abortion should not be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so, they said, only creates a greater strain on the hospital system during this global public health crisis.

Statement of Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“The past few weeks have been untenable for Texans in need of time-sensitive abortion procedures. We’ve heard patients grow increasingly more desperate for care. Gov. Abbott has blocked abortion access for mothers who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, people quarantined with abusive partners, and patients with fatal fetal diagnoses. Now is the time to be making abortion more accessible, not less. Medical professionals everywhere are being trusted to make necessary but difficult decisions about if and when to treat patients. Doctors who provide abortions are asking to do the same — because they, not politicians, know what’s best for their patients. This is a matter of health care, not political opinion.”

Statement from Rupali Sharma, senior counsel and director, Lawyering Project:

“Texans who seek abortion care deserve dignity and compassion — particularly during a public health crisis. Instead, they’ve been thrown into a tailspin of uncertainty, unsure if and when they'll be able to obtain essential, constitutionally protected healthcare. These extraordinary circumstances require urgent intervention. That’s why we're asking the Supreme Court to step in and stop Texas from blocking abortion access as its residents contend with unprecedented challenges.”

Statement from Nancy Northup, president and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights:
“It is vital that the Supreme Court step in and protect the health, lives and futures of Texas women. This is an extraordinarily difficult time, but this is an easy case. Texas is blatantly abusing its emergency power to obliterate Roe v. Wade. This tactic of using bogus health and safety justifications to close clinics is nothing new. In fact, we have another case before the Supreme Court right now challenging a different sham law designed to shut down clinics. These thinly veiled attempts to end abortion must stop.”

Already, courts in Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma are allowing abortion providers, just like all other doctors, to decide when to provide essential abortion care while conserving needed resources during this pandemic. Texas should be no different. In fact, forcing people to carry their pregnancies to term against their will only creates a heavier burden on a hospital system that’s already stretched thin caring for COVID-19 patients. 

 Texans already have to navigate a long list of restrictions that force patients to have medically unnecessary face-to-face contact with providers, and for some, push abortion out of reach altogether. These harmful restrictions include state-mandated in-person counseling and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. For many people, traveling out of state or waiting weeks for their procedure will mean they won’t be able to access an abortion at all.

The Texas plaintiff abortion providers are represented by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project and the Law Offices of Patrick J. O’Connell PLLC. A copy of the complaint can be found here.

Timeline of legal actions:

  • March 25: A group of Texas abortion providers — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project — sued Gov. Greg Abbott and other state officials to ensure that patients can continue to access essential, time-sensitive abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Press release here.
  • March 30: A federal district judge granted Texas abortion providers a temporary restraining order to allow abortion services to continue for the time being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Press release here.
  • March 31: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals put a temporary pause on the temporary restraining order granted by the district court only one day earlier while they reviewed the district court's order, resulting in severely restricted abortion access in Texas. This stay order was granted before abortion providers could make their case to the court. Press release here.
  • April 7: In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals used a rare procedural mechanism to rule that the district court was wrong to grant emergency relief to protect access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care. This allowed the State of Texas to continue using Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 order to block access to abortion. Press release here.
  • April 9: A federal district court granted a second temporary restraining order against Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 order. This decision allowed abortion providers to resume medication abortion as well as abortion procedures for patients who would be unable to access abortion due to their gestational age on April 22 (the day after Gov. Abbott’s executive order is set to expire). Press release here.
  • April 10: For the second time, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against abortion providers, this time granting a stay reversing in part the federal district court’s latest temporary restraining order (granted on April 9), which means abortion is once again largely inaccessible in the state of Texas.

 

April 9

A federal district court granted a second temporary restraining order against Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 order, which the State threatened to enforce as a ban on time-sensitive abortion services. Under this latest order, abortion providers — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project — may provide medication abortion as well as abortion procedures for patients who would be unable to access abortion due to their gestational age on April 22 (the day after Gov. Abbott’s executive order is set to expire).

This comes two days after the 5th Circuit used a rare procedural mechanism to reverse the first emergency restraining order granted to the Texas abortion providers — Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Planned Parenthood South Texas Surgical Center, Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, and Austin Women’s Health Center. As a result of the governor’s order and the 5th Circuit’s rulings, the providers have been forced to turn hundreds of patients away while the legal battle continues.

After just a few weeks, the enforcement of Abbott’s order has already had dramatic effects on patients’ lives, with some being forced to travel hundreds of miles in a pandemic to access basic and essential health care.

Statement of Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“This is a temporary sigh of relief for at least some Texas patients. We know that abortion is essential because it is time-sensitive care that cannot wait. Gov. Abbott should stop trying to force Texans into unconscionable choices: to travel long distances and increase their risk of exposure to the new coronavirus or carry a forced pregnancy. We won’t stand for it. Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these cruel attacks on our patients. We know your health cannot wait and we are here with you.”

Statement from Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“We are relieved that the district court has again stepped in to stop Governor Abbott from blocking women from accessing time-sensitive, essential abortion care. It’s time for Texas to stop its crusade to end abortion, which will inflict irreparable harm on women seeking care at this difficult time.”

Statement Rupali Sharma, Senior Counsel and Director at the Lawyering Project:
"Today's ruling ensures some Texans will be able to get the care they need, despite the all-out war politicians in the state have declared on abortion access. The Lawyering Project will continue to fight alongside people who need to end their pregnancies safely and with the dignity they deserve." 

Already, courts in Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma are allowing abortion providers, just like all other doctors, to decide when to provide essential abortion care while conserving needed resources during this pandemic. Texas should be no different. In fact, forcing people to carry their pregnancies to term against their will only creates a heavier burden on a hospital system that’s already stretched thin caring for COVID-19 patients.

Medical experts including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said: “Indeed, the Governor’s order is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.”

Texans already have to navigate a long list of restrictions that force abortion patients to have medically unnecessary face-to-face contact with providers, and for some, push abortion out of reach altogether. These harmful restrictions include state-mandated in-person counseling and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. For many people, traveling out of state or waiting weeks for their medical care will mean they won’t be able to access an abortion at all.

The plaintiffs in this case — abortion providers throughout Texas — are represented by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project, and the Law Offices of Patrick J. O’Connell PLLC. A copy of the ruling can be found here.

 

March 31

Earlier today the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals utilized extraordinary measures to allow Gov. Greg Abbott to ban essential, time-sensitive abortion procedures under his COVID-19 executive order. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its stay before the abortion providers — represented by Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America — could even respond to arguments made to the court by Abbott’s administration. Today’s order stays the temporary restraining order which I wrote to you about yesterday and means Texas women will not be able to access abortion services for the time being.

As I've said before, this fight is far from over. The Attorney General and the Governor intend to keep using this coronavirus pandemic as justification for shutting down abortion care. And now they’ve moved the legal fight to the fifth Circuit which has a disappointing history of objection to women’s rights to decide how to manage their pregnancies.

This is despicable and it puts women in a perilous position, again, as they scramble to access care during a public health crisis. As the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin has pointed out:

  • Many women will no longer be eligible for medication abortion.
  • Many women seeking a first-trimester abortion will be delayed into the second trimester.
  • The majority of Texas counties are 200 miles or more from the nearest out-of-state abortion facility.

I will keep you informed as this situation continues to unfold. Know that we will not back down. When it comes to our patients, we never stop. Thank you for standing with us and thank you too for calling Governor Abbott at 512-213-6763 and letting him know what you think.

In this together,

Jeffrey Hons
Pronouns: he, him, his
President & Chief Executive Officer