Reproductive rights advocates have accused anti-abortion state legislators of using coronavirus as an excuse to chip away at abortion access after Ohio and Texas halted abortion services during the coronavirus pandemic. Attorney generals in both states have ordered providers to immediately cease providing abortions, citing concerns about conserving medical supplies amid the coronavirus outbreak. But while state officials have suggested abortions are nonessential, reproductive rights advocates and health care providers say otherwise.
"We must work together as Texans to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our health care professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a message clarifying an executive order issued Saturday by Gov. Gregg Abbott. "No one is exempt from the governor's executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor's order will be met with the full force of the law."
According to Paxton, Abbott's order applied to "any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother." Those found to have violated the governor's order will face penalties of a fin up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail, Paxton said.
Texas' directive came days after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost ordered abortion providers to stop what he called "nonessential" abortions. Orders sent directly to at least three abortion clinics in Ohio warned them that the Department of Health would take appropriate measures if they did not "immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical abortions," Vox reported. A spokesperson from Yost's office told The New York Times that clinics had been contacted directly after Ohio's Department of Health received complaints, at least one of which came from a local anti-abortion group.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), however, pushed back on claims that abortions were nonessential in a joint statement issued in cooperation with seven other professional reproductive health organizations. "Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care," the statement read, adding that abortion should not be categorized as a procedure able to be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. "It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person's life, health, and well-being."
Additionally, clinics in Ohio have said they could follow directives to conserve the use of needed medical supplies while still providing surgical abortions. "We are complying with the Ohio Department of Health's order regarding personal protective equipment," a statement from Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region read. "Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion."
In Texas, the presidents of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, and Planned Parenthood South Texas, told KUT reporter Ashley Lopez that they were "carefully reviewing" the governor's order to ensure compliance. They noted, however, that "abortion is a time-sensitive medical procedure" and "a delay of 30 days, or even less, can make abortion completely inaccessible."
While Texas and Ohio have both moved to halt abortion services during the coronavirus outbreak, The Washington Post reported that similar orders halting or delaying elective surgeries issued in Massachusetts and Washington state were not extended to apply to abortions.
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