As attempts to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic go, here’s a reprehensible one: the effort by some conservative states to halt abortions by arguing that they are “nonessential” medical procedures. Sounds ridiculous, but that's the way officials in Ohio and Texas have interpreted emergency health orders intended to conserve medical equipment and gear needed for hospitals during the crisis.
It should be obvious that an abortion can't be "postponed" until the pandemic clears up like a facelift or cataract surgery or routine dental work. If a woman doesn't get get an abortion in a timely fashion, she can’t get it at all.
And that is, undoubtedly, what Texas and Ohio are hoping for. This is a chance for abortion opponents and state officials who are hostile to reproductive rights to advance their goal of making abortions difficult to access under the ruse of protecting coronavirus patients. (Mississippi's governor said his state might follow suit.) That’s shameless. And it’s medically negligent.
Besides, the vast majority of abortions are not even performed in hospitals; they're done in clinics. And providers there say they have reduced the use of protective equipment where possible.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists along with several other medical societies issued a statement warning that a delay of even several days in getting an abortion could make it inaccessible and could “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”
Neither the Texas nor the Ohio emergency order restricts doctors to providing care only in a life-or-death situation. The Ohio Department of Health order says doctors may perform procedures to save someone from having a dysfunctional limb, for example. But Ohio Atty. Gen. Dave Yost, in a letter to two abortion providers, told them to stop performing surgical abortions in cases where the mother's life is not at risk.
The Texas order from Gov. Greg Abbott instructs providers to postpone procedures not necessary to help someone at risk for “serious adverse medical consequences or death.” But Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, in a news release on his website, specified that unnecessary procedures included routine dermatological, ophthalmological and dental procedures — as well as any type of abortion that isn’t life-saving.
If a woman can’t get an abortion, there is, indeed, a serious adverse medical consequence: She has a baby she did not intend or desire to have.
In Texas, where some providers are already turning away patients, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project filed suit this week asking for a temporary restraining order against using the health order to stop abortion procedures.
According to the suit, Texas' interpretation of the health order is unconstitutional, singles out abortion providers from other medical services and causes patients irreparable harm.
Both Ohio and Texas have a history of passing baseless restrictions on abortion. That they would now use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny women their constitutional right to an abortion is perhaps not surprising, but it is certainly appalling.