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Texas Clinics Resume Abortion Services As State Acknowledges Ban Is No Longer In Place

By Shannon Najmabadi

A ban on nearly all abortions in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic appears to be over, as clinics began offering the procedure again Wednesday and state lawyers ceded in a legal filing that there is no longer any "case or controversy."

The near-total ban has been the subject of weeks of litigation — starting in late March when Gov.  Greg Abbott  postponed all surgeries not “immediately medically necessary” to preserve medical resources for coronavirus patients. Attorney General  Ken Paxton  said the ban extended to abortions, and the politically conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely sided with state officials.

But a new  order from Abbott that took effect Wednesday allows more procedures to resume in health care facilities that agree to reserve a certain number of beds for coronavirus patients and to refrain from seeking scarce protective equipment from public sources.

Abbott  demurred when asked last week if abortions could proceed under his latest directive, saying it was a decision for the courts and “not part of this order.” But abortion providers said they meet the criteria he laid out — and the state did not dispute that in its filing Wednesday.

The clinics, lawyers for the state said, certified they met the requirements and have "received acknowledgement" from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Whole Woman’s Health facilities in Fort Worth, Austin and McAllen were all open Wednesday, and president Amy Hagstrom Miller said Abbott’s latest directive “allows providers to resume both medication and procedural abortions.” The organization has had to cancel appointments for more than 200 patients in the month of April.

Dyana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, the advocacy arm for Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas, said the “past month has been an unthinkable nightmare for Texans who have been forced to travel out of state just to access essential health care, if they’re able to access care at all.”

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office, Kayleigh Date, said Abbott's second order applies to all licensed health care professionals and facilities, and that failure to comply can trigger a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time.

Paxton’s office said Monday — after the appeals court handed a  win to the state — that the ruling recognized that “states have the authority to take action during public health emergencies."

Abortion providers and members of the  medical community have said the near-total ban on abortion in Texas lacked " a valid medical justification.”

State law requires women to wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion.