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As The Pandemic Spreads, Battles Over Abortion Play Out In Court


As reproductive rights activists warn that some patients seeking abortions are being turned away, a federal court has ruled that an order suspending abortions in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic can stand - at least for now.

Republican officials in Texas and several other states have ordered the suspension of most abortions as "elective" or "non-essential" procedures, as part of larger efforts to preserve medical supplies during the pandemic.

In a conference call with reporters this week, Helene Krasnoff of Planned Parenthood said "hundreds of patients" seeking abortions have been turned away in Texas and elsewhere.

On Monday, federal judges blocked orders in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama. A federal judge has now sided with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on appeal, lifting a temporary restraining order that had blocked the state directive suspending abortions. Legal challenges remain underway in states including Iowa and Oklahoma.

Abortion rights opponents have supported the moves by Republican state leaders to restrict abortion during the pandemic. In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony List accused Planned Parenthood of "contributing to deficits in our nation's supply of personal protective equipment."

Reproductive health groups have weighed in, saying abortion is a time-sensitive procedure and that delaying it can jeopardize women's health.

"It is an incredibly concerning day when states would impose criminal penalties on physicians and other clinicians that are seeking to deliver care, and that is one of the main concerns that the medical community has about these actions," said Skye Perryman, an attorney with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told reporters.

In Texas, for example, violators would face $1,000 fine or up to 180 days in jail.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 21 Democratic attorneys general is asking the federal government to loosen restrictions on abortion pills, and on the use of telemedicine for abortion and other reproductive health services, in an effort to ease access while the nation's healthcare system is strained.

Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University and the author of Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present, said as this fight could accelerate the timeline for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of abortion.

Ziegler said justices "who might be gun-shy about decimating abortion rights quickly might feel more comfortable doing that if they can invoke public health or some kind of national crisis as cover for what they're choosing to do."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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