Abortion-rights advocates sue Texas officials for limiting abortion access in coronavirus order

A group of Texas abortion providers and abortion rights advocates are suing state officials after Texas opted to include abortions among nonessential surgical procedures that must be deferred or canceled to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton confirmed that “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” was included in Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that health care providers “postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary” to preserve a patient’s life or condition.

Paxton noted that violating the order, which lasts until April 21, could result in fines of up to $1,000 or 180 days imprisonment.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday against Abbott, Paxton and other state officials by local providers, as well as Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, the groups called on a federal judge to block the restriction on abortion. They argued that it “violates Plaintiffs’ patients’ fundamental constitutional right to decide whether to have an abortion prior to viability.”

“The Texas Attorney General’s enforcement threats are a blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda, without any benefit to the state in terms of preventing or resolving shortages of (personal protective equipment) or hospital capacity,” they wrote. “As a result of these threats, this week Plaintiffs have already been forced to turn away patients in need of time-sensitive care.”

Texas is not alone in limiting abortion access in light of the coronavirus outbreak. State officials in Mississippi and Ohio have also limited abortions in response to the virus, saying that the steps are necessary to preserve protective supplies that are becoming increasingly precious as the pandemic worsens. But abortion-rights groups have decried the actions, saying officials are exploiting a public health crisis to advance a political agenda.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said on a press call Wednesday that their three clinics in Texas had canceled more than 150 appointments this week in light of the order.

Paxton’s decision “has already created a health crisis on top of a health crisis,” she said. “Abortion is essential health care and it is a time sensitive service.”

Paxton accused the providers of looking to divert key health resources and vowed to uphold the order.

“It is unconscionable that abortion providers are fighting against the health of Texans and withholding desperately needed supplies and personal protective equipment in favor of a procedure that they refer to as a ‘choice,'” he said in a statement to CNN. “My office will tirelessly defend Governor Abbott’s Order to ensure that necessary supplies reach the medical professionals combating this national health crisis.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Texas has looked to restrict abortion rights and access in the last year. Texas lawmakers considered a bill in April that would allow a woman who undergoes an abortion procedure to possibly be charged with capital murder, a crime punishable by death in the state, and multiple cities have recently declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn” and adopted unenforceable ordinances that claim to outlaw abortion within city limits.