States are including abortion bans in their coronavirus legislation. Judges struck them down in Ohio and Alabama — but Texas is keeping its ban in place.

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A physician assistant walks through the halls of the Nuestra Clinica del Valle in San Juan, Texas, September 22, 2015. Delcia Lopez/Reuters
  • Federal judges in Alabama and Ohio have blocked temporary bans on abortion until April 13.
  • Abortion rights advocates praised the decisions. Two other states, Iowa and Oklahoma, are currently facing legal challenges for ordering abortions temporarily suspended.
  • “Everyone deserves to have access to safe, timely care and a delay of only a few weeks can make abortion completely inaccessible,” said Chrisse France, executive director of Preterm, an abortion clinic in Ohio.
  • The situation may not hold for long. A federal judge blocked Texas’s ban on Monday but was overruled by an appeals court judge on Tuesday.
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Reproductive rights advocates claimed victory Monday when federal judges in Alabama and Ohio handed down decisions rejecting the three states’ temporary bans on abortions, which had been deemed “nonessential” during the coronavirus epidemic. The stoppages are in effect until April 13.

Advocates in Texas had, for a short while, declared a similar victory when a federal judge rejected the state’s ban. But a federal appeals court judge blocked that decision on Tuesday.

Iowa and Oklahoma recently tried to pass similar temporary bans; a coalition of advocates, including Planned Parenthood, is challenging the measures in court. Abortion is an urgent, essential medical procedure, said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Alabama federal judge Myron Thompson, of the state’s Middle District, said the temporary ban would unnecessarily hamper peoples’ access to abortions.

“Because Alabama law imposes time limits on when women can obtain abortions, the March 27 order is likely to fully prevent some women from exercising their right to obtain an abortion,” Thompson wrote, halting the state health department order until April 13. “And for those women who, despite the mandatory postponement, are able to vindicate their right, the required delay may pose an undue burden that is not justified by the State’s purported rationales.”

In a press statement published before Thompson’s decision, Alabama state Attorney General Steve Marshall criticised the ACLU’s challenge to the temporary order.

“At a time when all Americans are making significant sacrifices to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is remarkable that one class of providers demands to be treated differently than all others,” he said.

“Abortion clinics want an exemption, yet they are by no means exempt from the known risks of spreading the virus,” Marshall added.

According to federal judge Michael Barrett, of the Southern District of Ohio, such concerns are outweighed by peoples’ constitutional rights.

Ohio’s temporary ban, said Barrett, “likely places an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to choose a pre-viability abortion, and thus violates her right to privacy guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

“Its enforcement would, per se, inflict irreparable harm,” he added. But Barrett noted that abortions are to be deemed essential “on a case-by-case basis”.

“Everyone deserves to have access to safe, timely care and a delay of only a few weeks can make abortion completely inaccessible,” Chrisse France, executive director of the Ohio abortion clinic Preterm, said in a statement.

Ohio Attorney General David Yost defended the temporary abortion ban, saying: “the only reason for the Health Department’s order” was “to save lives in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

He added that Ohio would “take the course of action that will most quickly achieve that goal – be it an emergency appeal, a trial on the preliminary injunction, a more specifically drawn order, or other remedy.”

In Texas, federal judge Lee Yeakel, of the Western District, struck down the state’s temporary abortion ban, hours before the judgments in Ohio and Alabama.

But on Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that decision, allowing Texas’ abortion ban to continue.

Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state’s temporary ban applied to “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” later saying that abortion providers were “withholding desperately needed supplies and personal protective equipment in favour of a procedure that they refer to as a ‘choice.'”

This article has been updated.