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Appeals court upholds Texas’ decision to close abortion clinics as part of coronavirus response

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — An appeals court has upheld Texas’ decision to close abortion clinics as part of the state’s response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has blocked a lower court’s decision Monday that prevented Texas from temporarily closing abortion clinics.

Following the U.S. District Court’s decision Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed for “immediate appellate review” in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, according to a release Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted a temporary restraining order Monday that was supposed to last until April 13, at which time he said he would hold a hearing by phone to determine whether to grant a preliminary injunction.

Planned Parenthood and a coalition of women’s rights advocates sued Texas after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order directing all licensed healthcare professionals and facilities to postpone surgeries and procedures not medically necessary to correct a medical condition or to save a patient’s life. The state’s lawyer, Texas Attorney General Paxton, asserted that the order applied to abortion clinics, arguing that medical supplies in the state need to be used to fight the coronavirus.

The release from Paxton’s office claims “Abortion facilities want special treatment not available to any other health care provider in Texas.”

“Regarding a woman’s right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion, the Supreme Court has spoken clearly,” Judge Yeakel wrote. “There can be no outright ban on such a procedure.”

“This court will not speculate on whether the Supreme Court included a silent ‘except-in-a-national-emergency clause’ in its previous writings on the issue,” Judge Yeakel continued.

“The State Defendants well describe the emergency facing this country at the present time,” Yeakel wrote. “They do not overstate when they say, ‘Texas faces it worst public health emergency in over a century.'”

“The Executive Order, as written, does not exceed the governor’s power to deal with the emergency,” Yeakel wrote. “But the attorney general’s interpretation of that order constitutes the threat of criminal penalties against those whose interpretation differs.”

In a statement late Monday, Paxton’s office said it would file an immediate appeal.

“I am deeply disappointed that the court ruled against the health and safety of Texans,” Paxton said in a statement. “My office is seeking prompt appellate review to ensure that medical professionals on the frontlines have the supplies and protective gear they desperately need.”

“We will fight tirelessly against this politically-driven lawsuit to protect the health of Texans suffering from this COVID-19 crisis,” Paxton continued.

Faith-based nonprofit Texas Values, which leans to the right, issued a statement Monday afternoon.

“As more people continue to die from the coronavirus, Planned Parenthood chose to make a political statement and take more lives through abortion by suing the Governor and Attorney General who were trying to preserve medical supplies for those most in need,” Mary Elizabeth Castle, Texas Values Policy Advisor said.

Progress Texas, a left-leaning nonprofit promoting progressive values said Monday through a statement that abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care.

“All patients accessing abortion deserve their care without delay,” Progress Texas spokesperson Tara Pohlmeyer said Monday. “Access to reproductive health care is especially important during a public health crisis, and this ruling means Texans have access to much-needed care. Instead of trying to distract with ideology, state lawmakers like Gov. Greg Abbott and indicted-Attorney General Ken Paxton can now focus on prioritizing public health and safety measures for the state.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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