Federal judge says Texas providers can temporarily resume abortions, contradicting appeals court

Tribune Content Agency

AUSTIN, Texas — Going against a recent federal appeals court ruling, a lower federal judge says Texas abortion providers can offer certain abortions while they continue fighting in court against a state order that halted most abortions.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on Thursday granted Texas abortion providers a second temporary restraining order, blocking the state from enforcing its ban on elective abortions during the coronavirus pandemic. This comes after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a similar temporary restraining order from Yeakel on Tuesday.

Responding to providers’ Wednesday request for emergency relief, Yeakel issued a more limited temporary restraining order that allows providers to offer early-stage medically induced abortions and other abortion procedures to women who are nearing the state’s existing gestational limits for elective abortions. The order expires on April 19. Providers are still asking for a preliminary injunction that would block the state from enforcing its emergency executive order for the remainder of the lawsuit.

In a March 22 executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott said all nonessential medical procedures would be postponed to free up hospital beds and personal protective equipment amid rising COVID-19 cases, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton promptly warned providers they could face fines and jail time for performing any type of abortion under the order. The order remains in effect until April 21, unless extended.

In the new restraining order, Yeakel said medically induced abortions do not count as a procedure under the order and that the state cannot punish providers for offering procedural abortions to women who would be past the state’s 20-week gestational limit on April 22 or would have trouble reaching an ambulatory surgical center to get the procedure.

Yeakel’s previous temporary restraining order allowed providers to resume performing abortions for nearly a day, before Paxton’s office appealed the order to the 5th Circuit Court. The 5th Circuit Court quickly granted the state a stay to enforce the ban while it reviewed more information, but it took more time to issue a longer-term decision.

In a split decision, a three-judge panel said on Tuesday that the state could continue enforcing its ban, arguing that Yeakel had previously failed to consider the special powers granted to states during public health emergencies through past U.S. Supreme Court rulings.


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