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Federal Court: Medication Abortions Can Proceed In Texas

Updated at 3:50 p.m. ET

In a win for abortion rights advocates, a federal appeals court says medication abortions can proceed in Texas.

Republican state officials are trying to ban most abortions as part of an order prohibiting nonessential procedures during the coronavirus pandemic. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have argued that abortion should be considered nonessential and suspended as part of an effort to conserve medical supplies.

In a new ruling, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit says that medication abortions should be permitted. That method uses pills early in pregnancy to cause what is essentially a medically induced miscarriage. The court found that the state of Texas had not sufficiently demonstrated that medication abortions are the type of procedure covered by the governor's order. Reproductive rights groups say the technique does not require the use of the personal protective equipment, or PPE, needed by healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients.

The court had previously sided with state officials seeking to ban abortions. Under an earlier ruling, most surgical abortions are still prohibited in Texas, except for emergencies or pregnancies nearing the state's 22-week cutoff. Abortion providers report that patients seeking the procedure are being turned away.

Texas is one of several states where legal challenges are underway after Republican officials have tried to ban abortions during the pandemic. Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, but a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman told NPR Tuesday that the group was withdrawing the motion in response to the Fifth Circuit's ruling allowing medication abortions to proceed.

In Tennessee, abortion rights groups have filed a new lawsuit challenging Gov. Bill Lee's order banning most abortions in that state. Similar lawsuits also have been filed this week in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Groups opposed to abortion rights have asked the federal government to urge abortion providers to shut down and to ensure that access to medication abortion is not expanded. Reproductive rights groups have called for easing restrictions on abortion pills in an effort to make abortion more accessible via telemedicine during the pandemic.

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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.