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Court lifts part of order blocking Texas abortion ban

AUSTIN, Texas – A federal appeals court on Friday partially rescinded a lower-court order that had largely blocked the enforcement of an abortion ban in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic.

By a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld enforcement of an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that includes abortion among non-essential medical procedures banned during the state of emergency.

However, the appeals court allowed the procedure to go ahead if delays would place the pregnancy beyond the 22-week state cutoff for abortions.

The ruling was agreed to by Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and Kyle Duncan, an appointee of President Donald Trump. Judge James L. Dennis, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, dissented and opposed any stay of the lower-court order.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the new coronavirus. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

In a statement, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said the appeals court "is unjustifiably forcing women to wait until the eleventh hour to get the time-sensitive, essential healthcare that they are constitutionally guaranteed. We will pursue all legal options to ensure no women are left behind.”

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin had blocked the total ban in Abbott's executive order last week, but the appeals court overturned that order when the state appealed. Planned Parenthood and other women's clinics then asked the Austin judge to allow non-surgical abortions by medication or abortions if delay would take a pregnancy beyond the 22-week state legal barrier. Yeakel granted that request Thursday, but the state appealed immediately again.

Abbott’s original March 22 order was to expire April 21 but can be extended.

Similar legal fights are being waged in Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma and Iowa.

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This story was first published on April 10, 2020. It was updated on April 13, 2020, to correct the name of the president for the Center for Reproductive Rights to Nancy Northup, not Nancy Northrup.