Texas theocrats use pandemic to cause irreparable harm to women

The Freedom From Religion Foundation condemns Texas’ reigning theocrats, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, for causing irreparable harm to the women of their state under the pretext of containing the coronavirus pandemic.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just issued a ruling overturning a federal court decision allowing abortion providers in Texas to continue their services. Abbott had claimed that abortion clinics provide “nonessential” care and ordered them shuttered under the coronavirus lockdown. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted the clinics a temporary restraining order on Monday, March 30, which Paxton immediately appealed.

The appeals court panel voted 2-1 today to allow Paxton to shut down the clinics, with dissenting Judge James L. Dennis noting:

“A federal judge has already concluded that irreparable harm would flow from allowing the executive order to prohibit abortions during this critical time. I would deny the stay. Moreover, I write separately to make clear that, per the executive order, ‘any procedure that, if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster’ is exempt.”

Imagine having an unwanted pregnancy in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Now imagine your appointment for a lawful procedure has been arbitrarily canceled and abortion clinics closed down entirely in your state. Only wealthier Texans with connections will be able to make and keep appointments out of state. Regardless of income, this ruling will create pandemonium, misery and irreparable harm for many. It is unconscionable.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is not surprised that Abbott and Paxton are exhibiting such callous disregard toward freedom of conscience and the right to privacy. FFRF has been at the receiving end of hostility from both men, who fit the very definition of Christian Nationalists.

As FFRF documented in its lawsuit against Abbott for unlawfully censoring FFRF’s Bill of Rights display (in an ongoing lawsuit that FFRF is winning), Abbott has demonstrated a history of hostility against FFRF. As attorney general, he publicly warned FFRF to stay out of Texas altogether: “Our message to the atheists is: ‘Don’t mess with Texas and our Nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments.’” And he has contemptuously said about the organization, “We are not going to either tolerate or accept these atheist groups trying to prevent that freedom of expression here in the state of Texas.” Both Abbott and Paxton have publicly sided against FFRF over some of our (winning) lawsuits in Texas.

Those who would demonize nonbelievers and belittle as much as 26 percent of the state population that is not religious clearly have no compunction in denying women their constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade.

Abortion providers have until Wednesday, April 1, at 1 8 a.m. to contest the stay order, which threatens clinic providers with jail time and fines.

Now the fate of many Texas abortion patients will be in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already signaled its willingness to approve anti-abortion laws the court rejected just a few years ago. The unimaginable — criminalizing abortion care — is becoming reality in the United States.

Freethinkers and those who value civil liberties must take alarm and help mobilize opposition to the indefensible actions of theocrats taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to undermine true liberty in the United States.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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