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Texas abortion ban can go back into effect, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules

Texas will again be allowed to implement its temporary ban on abortion, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday afternoon. Per the order, any abortion "not medically necessary to preserve the life or health" of the patient must be halted as part of the state's directive suspending "non-essential" medical procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ban was briefly lifted on Monday evening when a lower court ruled the suspension of abortion services was unconstitutional and in violation of Supreme Court precedent, including Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

"I thank the court for their immediate and careful attention to the health and safety needs of Texans suffering from the spread of COVID-19," said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement Tuesday. "The temporary stay ordered this afternoon justly prioritizes supplies and personal protective equipment for the medical professionals in need."

Texas is among five states facing legal battles over restricting abortion access during the coronavirus pandemic. In a sweep of legal filings Monday, a coalition of abortion rights groups challenged similar bans in Alabama, Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma. So far, judges have ordered bans in Alabama and Ohio to be lifted.

In Texas, Paxton ordered all abortion services immediately halted last week, with the limited exception of those that are "necessary to preserve the life or health" of the patient, interpreting Governor Greg Abbott's executive order that banned "non-essential" medical procedures to include abortion services. 

In a matter of days, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Lawyering Project filed a joint complaint, asking a federal court for an immediate temporary restraining order, calling the directive "unconstitutional."

Since Paxton's order, hundreds of patients have been unable to receive an abortion in the state, forcing some to travel to neighboring states despite a stay-at-home order. At the time of publication, the Center for Reproductive Rights was calling providers in the state, notifying them that their brief window to offer abortion services had closed.

"The Fifth Circuit is escalating the fear and confusion women seeking abortion in Texas are already experiencing," said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement shared with CBS News on Tuesday afternoon. "The trial court found just yesterday that women will suffer irreparable harm if clinics are closed. We will continue fighting this legal battle against Texas' abuse of emergency powers." 

In Tuesday's ruling, three federal judges — Judge James L. Dennis, Judge Kyle Duncan and Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod — issued a temporary stay, allowing the ban on abortion to remain in place. 

Judge Dennis, a Clinton appointee, dissented: "A federal judge has already concluded that irreparable harm would flow from allowing the Executive Order to prohibit abortions during this critical time," Dennis wrote. Judge Duncan was appointed by President Donald Trump and Judge Elrod by former President George W. Bush.

The groups challenging Texas' suspension of abortion access have until Wednesday morning to file a response.

"Texans are losing their jobs, they are struggling to put food on the table, they can't get COVID-19 testing — meanwhile indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is doubling down on banning abortion," Aimee Arrambide, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive director, said in a statement shared with CBS News on Tuesday afternoon. "Let's be clear, it is never the right time to play politics, but doing so in the wake of COVID-19 is a despicable low."

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