Update: On March 30, a federal judge blocked an emergency ban on abortions in Texas. The ruling protects abortion care as an essential procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 31, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban can remain in place. On April 7, a federal appeals court affirmed the abortion ban, citing states’ rights to limit constitutional rights during emergencies.
We will update this story as it unfolds.
Fort Worth hospitals have canceled elective procedures as medical staff prepare for an inundation of patients who are sick with the COVID-19 disease. Gov. Greg Abbott made the order to cease procedures that are deemed “not medically necessary” earlier this week. There are currently 114 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tarrant County, according to the county’s website.
The order, which expires on April 21, means that Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and other Texas women’s health providers cannot perform abortions. Fort Worth has two Planned Parenthood locations.
In a statement, State Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”
Planned parenthood directors see Abbott’s motivations as political. The abortion provider, which also provides essential reproductive healthcare services to underserved communities, is the frequent target of attacks by Abbott, Paxon, and many conservative politicians in the Lone Star State and beyond.
In 2017, Paxton sued Planned Parenthood over craftily edited and widely debunked videos of Planned Parenthood employees allegedly selling baby parts (“Texas’ Plans for Planned Parenthood,” January 2017). Six years before that, the Republican-led Texas Legislature moved to cut family-funding grants by 66 percent for Planned Parenthood.
This time, Planned Parenthood is suing. Last Wednesday, a group of Texas abortion providers represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America sued Abbott and other governmental defendants to restore “essential, time-sensitive abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said that abortions can safely be performed while taking precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Along with other healthcare providers in Texas, Planned Parenthood is providing healthcare while carefully implementing COVID-19 public health guidelines,” he said. “Anyone seeking an abortion in Texas already faces unnecessary hurdles created by the Texas governor and statewide politicians that make it difficult for patients to access abortion. Uninsured, low-income patients and people of color are already disproportionately impacted by Texas’ political mandates and will be even more at risk. Banning abortion due to COVID-19 is dangerous, unprecedented, and does not protect public health.”
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas gave its current status via Facebook.
“Urgent sexual healthcare remains an essential service,” they wrote. “That is why our health centers remain open as scheduled. To protect the health of our patients, staff, and health center visitors, we have adjusted our available services to the most urgent and enhanced patients and visitor screening. Patients are encouraged to use a smartphone app called Planned Parenthood Direct for birth control and [urinary tract infection] treatment and to visit ppgreatertx.org/COVID19 for the latest guidance.“