As of Monday, Ohio and Texas have included “nonessential abortions” among the surgeries and medical procedures that are required to be delayed during the coronavirus pandemic. Per The New York Times, legislators from both states said they made this decision to preserve protective equipment that healthcare workers need to stay safe while they treat patients with COVID-19, despite recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that all abortions remain on the list of essential procedures.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton defined nonessential surgery as “any procedure that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.” On Monday, Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, clarified that nonessential procedures in his state included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”
Paxton added that failure to comply with this order could result in a $1,000 fine or up to 180 days in jail, though he did not note whether medication abortion falls under this order.
Gabriel Mann, communications manager at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told Supermajority News that these decisions could harm many families.
“People decide to end their pregnancies for a complex constellation of reasons that include the impact of pregnancy and birth on their health, ability to work, and strained economic circumstances,” Mann said. “These are conditions that do not go away—and are likely heightened—in pandemic conditions. Denying or delaying abortion care places an immediate burden on patients, their families, and the health system, and can have profound and lasting consequences.”
Mann added that as of March 24, Ohio clinics are still open, but they already operate under several restrictions that make providing abortions difficult; Since 2011, anti-choice lawmakers have passed over 23 restrictions on abortion and other reproductive health care, and Ohio lost over half of its abortion clinics, according to Mann. “It’s disgusting to see how Attorney General Dave Yost and Ohio Right to Life President (and State Medical Board member) Mike Gonidakis are exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to further their agenda to close Ohio’s remaining abortion clinics,” Man added.
Last year, Ohio passed a bill known as “the heartbeat bill” into law; this law bans abortions after six weeks of gestation when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. According to the Guttmacher Institute, by 2017, 96 percent of Texas counties had no clinics that provided abortions.
Mann said that he has “no doubt” that the legislators in Ohio will continue to push anti-abortion legislation, even after the COVID-19 pandemic. But he also has “no doubt that the team at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and our coalition partners will never stop fighting to ensure that people who need abortion care can get it.”