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Texas clinics resume abortion services, citing Abbott’s loosening of ban on elective medical procedures

A women's health clinic in Texas. (Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune)
A women's health clinic in Texas. (Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune)

Texas clinics resumed offering abortions Wednesday, after a strict bar on nonessential medical procedures was loosened at midnight.

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

The legal fight is ongoing. Abortion providers have accused state officials of political opportunism, saying abortions rarely result in hospitalization and require little or no protective equipment.

A new order from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, that took effect Wednesday, allows more procedures to resume in healthcare facilities that agree to reserve a certain number of beds for coronavirus patients, and to not seek 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 on Wednesday said they met the criteria he laid out.

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 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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Paxton’s office said Monday — after the appeals court handed a win to the state — that the ruling recognized “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 “lacks a valid medical justification.”