Appeals court reinstates Texas abortion restrictions imposed due to coronavirus pandemic

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A federal appeals court Tuesday stayed a Texas federal judge's ruling that blocked Gov. Gregg Abbott's order closing abortion clinics due to the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin had ruled the “Supreme Court has spoken clearly” on a woman’s right to abortion while blocking efforts by state Republican leaders to ban the procedure during the virus crisis. But the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit said it needed more time to consider Abbott's order restricting elective medical procedures, including abortion.

The order reflects the court battles still ahead for abortion providers across the U.S. during the outbreak, even after clinics in other states secured at least partial triumphs Monday.

Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, responded to Tuesday's decision by vowing to continue fighting. "We won't stop fighting for our patients. This is not over," the group tweeted, along side the hashtag #AbortionIsEssential. NARAL Pro-Choice America argued that "now is the worst possible time to limit health care services."

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"Today, access is threatened yet again by anti-choice officials exploiting #COVID19 to prioritize ideology over science," the group tweeted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is housed under HHS, advises health care facilities to "delay inpatient and outpatient elective surgical and procedural cases." Texas' restrictions specifically affect abortions that are "not medically necessary to preserve the life or health."

Pro-choice advocates contend that abortion is an essential and time-sensitive medical service. While people everywhere are trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, politicians like Gov. Abbott continue this perverse obsession with banning abortion," Planned Parenthood Acting President Alexis McGill Johnson said in press release.

"Those who are caring for their families, forced to work essential jobs, and doing what they can to stay healthy need access to health care right now. Instead, these politicians are forcing patients to travel hundreds of miles putting themselves and their families at risk.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser praised the stay order. “We are pleased that the Court recognized the urgency and necessity of Governor Abbott’s order. All elective surgeries and procedures, including abortions, must cease during this national crisis,” Dannenfelser said in a statement provided to Fox News. “At a time when millions of Americans are making heroic sacrifices to protect the vulnerable, and legitimate health care workers risk their own lives to care for COVID-19 patients with crucial protective equipment in short supply, the abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood demands special treatment and diverts scarce resources."

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Dannenfelser cited a news report that Planned Parenthood had requesting donations for personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer and shoe covers.

Abby Johnson, a pro-life advocate who previously directed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, similarly praised the decision and pushed back on the idea that abortions were "essential."

"Abortion is never an essential service and especially at this moment, when all our resources need to be focused on beating COVID-19, having a non-essential business diverting needed resources and PPE is detrimental and harmful to public health," she told Fox News.

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The coronavirus has poured fuel on to the fire of an already raging debate surrounding abortion access as both sides discuss whether pandemic-related restrictions on medical care should apply to abortion clinics, as well.

Last week, a long list of pro-life leaders sent a letter demanding that the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) refrain from promoting abortion during the pandemic. Signed by leaders such as Dannenfelser and Johnson, the letter complained that abortion clinics were putting women at risk by sidestepping guidelines surrounding elective medical procedures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.