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Medication abortions can resume in Texas and Oklahoma, federal appeals courts rule

Hundreds of women caught up in abortion bans
Hundreds of women caught up in abortion bans amid coronavirus pandemic 02:21

Abortion services in Texas and Oklahoma can resume, two federal appeals courts ruled on Monday evening. Both states previously issued temporary bans on the procedure amid the coronavirus pandemic, labeling abortions "non-essential."

In a six-page ruling, the Fifth Circuit unanimously ruled that medication abortions, which involve a patient taking pills, can continue in Texas despite the state's directive to halt all pregnancy termination "not medically necessary to preserve the life or health" of the patient.

Under the directive that was issued on March 23, doctors who violate the order face "penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time." On Monday night, a three-judge panel denied Texas' emergency motion to overturn a lower court ruling from last week that allowed the abortion method to resume in the state despite the ban.

For the past three weeks, the vast majority of abortions in Texas have been unavailable, the first time that's happened in a state in nearly 50 years -- when Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure. Beginning Tuesday, most abortion services will again be available to patients.

Judge Kyle Dennis, a Clinton appointee, scrutinized the state's inclusion of medication abortion in its temporary ban on the procedure. Concurring, Dennis wrote that including the pregnancy termination method was "a strong indication that the enforcement is pretextual and does not bear a '"real or substantial relation' to the public health crisis' we are experiencing."

A similar ruling out of the Tenth Circuit on Monday evening also allows medication abortion to resume in Oklahoma despite a ban nearly identical to the one in Texas. In both states, patients who would be outside the legal gestational limits of abortion by the time the bans lift are also able to receive the procedure.

Emails to the Attorneys General Offices of Texas and Oklahoma seeking comment were not immediately answered. Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project, the organizations that represent the abortion providers impacted by the bans, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Texas and Oklahoma are among six states facing legal battles over their restrictions on abortion access during the pandemic. Texas is furthest along in the judicial process, as abortion rights groups have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

In a sweep of legal filings, a coalition of abortion rights groups has challenged similar bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa and Ohio. So far, judges have ordered bans to be at least partially lifted in every state but Arkansas.

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