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Texas can ban medication abortions during virus efforts, appeals court rules

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Texas can now ban medication abortions as part of the state’s effort to fight the spread of the new coronavirus, a federal appeals court panel ruled Monday.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans last week temporarily blocked the state’s prohibition on medication abortions while it gave more consideration to the issue.

The same panel, in a 2-1 decision, said Monday the state was within its rights to ban that — and other abortion procedures — as it sought to slow the use of masks, gowns and other protective medical gear.

The majority opinion by judges Jennifer Elrod and Kyle Duncan said a lower court erred by treating a medication abortion as “an absolute right.”

“But the constitutional right to abortion does not include the right to the abortion method of the woman’s (or the physician’s) choice,” the majority opinion said.

Clinics have argued that medication abortions do not require personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns that might be needed for coronavirus patients. Monday’s opinion said that it has not been proven that, during the pandemic, such protective equipment would not be used during an examination of a woman seeking a medication abortion.

Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights, said the appeals court it “is creating chaos and uncertainty for women seeking abortions in Texas.”

“Patients who had appointments scheduled will now be thrown into a state of panic yet again,” she said in a statement. “It’s clear this abortion ban has nothing to do with the pandemic. Texas has been trying to restrict abortion for decades and this is part of that larger strategy.”

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