Massachusetts AG Healey Joins Fight to Stop Texas From Banning Abortions During COVID-19 Public Health Crisis
(STL.News) – In continuation of her ongoing efforts to protect women’s access to reproductive health care, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in opposing a Texas abortion ban tied to the COVID-19 public health crisis.
“Abortion is essential health care,” AG Healey said. “No state should use this public health crisis as an excuse to cut off women’s access to needed care.”
The coalition filed a brief Thursday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in support of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project in their lawsuit challenging Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s March 22 executive order that bans abortion services for at least 30 days, unless the life of the mother is in jeopardy. The executive order also places any health care worker who is caught defying the abortion ban at risk of being fined up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned in jail for at least up to 180 days.
Earlier this week, the federal district court issued a temporary restraining order that stopped the abortion ban from taking effect, citing that the Supreme Court has spoken clearly that there can be no outright ban on a woman’s right to a “pre-fetal-viability abortion.” The next day – following a request by Texas – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit halted the district court’s decision, effectively reinstating the ban on abortions in the state.
In the brief, the coalition argues that reproductive health is an “essential medical service” that must remain available, and that Texas’s prohibition unlawfully “blocks the exercise of a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion.” The coalition refutes Texas’s claims that its abortion ban is needed to conserve limited personal protective equipment (PPE), as “most pre-viability abortions do not use PPE or hospital services, and thus restricting such abortions does not appreciably preserve those resources.”
The coalition also argues that at a time when the entire country is being asked to limit travel, any restriction on abortions could force “women to seek those services in other States, thereby increasing the potential for transmission of COVID-19.” Further, Massachusetts residents who are stuck in Texas due to the public health crisis have a right to have time-sensitive reproductive care. Massachusetts’ own COVID-19 guidance has made clear that abortions are not among the procedures that should be delayed as nonessential.
According to the brief, there are many other steps that Texas could take that would be more effective at slowing the transmission of COVID-19 and alleviating shortages of PPE and hospital beds. For example, Massachusetts has issued guidance to permit hospitals to use “alternative acute inpatient care space to care for COVID-19 patients.” The state has also ordered hospitals to implement expedited credentialing procedures and exchange of clinical staff between facilities and has ordered that out-of-state licensed and formerly licensed medical professionals can obtain licenses in Massachusetts during the pendency of the crisis.
The coalition concludes by arguing that any ban on abortion — even for a matter of weeks — can end up restricting a woman’s “constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability,” especially in states, like Texas, which already have limited timetables in place for electing to have an abortion.
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