Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Texas and Ohio have included abortions among the nonessential surgeries and medical procedures that they are requiring to be delayed, setting off a new front in the fight over abortion rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
Both states said they were trying to preserve extremely precious protective equipment for health care workers and to make space for a potential flood of coronavirus patients.
But abortion rights activists said that abortions should be counted as essential and that people could not wait for the procedure until the pandemic was over.
Pro-choice groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood say the order is an excuse from the state to restrict access to abortion.
Ohio's legislators have sought to curb people's access to abortion prior to the pandemic.
“Planned Parenthood’s top priority is ensuring every person can continue accessing essential healthcare, including abortion,” Planned Parenthood of Ohio said in a statement, adding that they are still being compliant with the state order.
“Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to provide services that our patients depend on,” they added.
Despite a state health order banning non-essential procedures during the coronavirus health emergency, Ohio abortion clinics remained open last week.
But after receiving complaints, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost ordered two of them to follow Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton’s orders.
“You and your facility are ordered to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions. Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient,” Yost said.
“If you or your facility do not immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical abortions in compliance with the [health director’s] order, the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures.”
On Wednesday, Acton issued an order saying “all non-essential or elective surgeries and procedures that utilized [personal protective equipment] should not be conducted.” The state is attempting to preserve supplies of equipment needed in combating the vir
Republicans in states around the country are doing their best to use the growing coronavirus epidemic in order to push through their rightwing, anti-abortion agendas. The latest—on Sunday night, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order to “postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary” until April 21. In response, the state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered all abortion clinics to stop providing “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” or face penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.
The move by Republican officials in Texas comes on the heels of Ohio’s attorney general’s office ordering abortion clinics in Dayton, Cleveland, and Cincinnati to “immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions.”
Framing these moves as a way to ensure that health care professionals have the resources they need, which is what officials in both Texas and Ohio have done, is an incredibly manipulative and underhanded way to sneak in anti-abortion measures under the guide of public health. In a statement to Jezebel, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive Aimee Arrambide wrote, “Abortion is essential healthcare, but especially in the wake of the public health crisis we are facing now.... Abortion is a procedure where time is of the essence and cannot be delayed without profound consequences.”
Over the weekend, two states made moves to ban certain abortions under the guise of preparing for the expected surge in coronavirus cases. In Ohio, Attorney General Dave Yost sent letters to three abortion clinics ordering them to stop performing “nonessential” surgical abortions that “can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.” In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a halt to all procedures performed on patients not facing an immediate risk of “serious adverse medical consequences or death.” The Texas attorney general confirmed on Monday that most abortions would fall under the order.
Both officials have said the bans are necessary to reduce coronavirus-induced strain on health care systems and reserve personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, for more urgent uses during a time of nationwide medical supply shortages. Their misclassification of abortion as nonessential health care betrays a deep-seated indifference for the health and welfare of pregnant women. Abortion care isn’t a delayable luxury, even during a pandemic. It’s essential preventive care—and if anything, it might be more essential than usual.
Abortion providers in Texas and Ohio have said they consider themselves exempt from the orders and will continue seeing patients, since the care they provide is necessary and time-sensitive. Though abortion care is extremely safe, it gets riskier, more expensive, and more difficult—or impossible—to access as a pregnancy progresses.