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State Legislatures Are Working To Ban Abortion Access During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Limiting access to abortion care can put vulnerable people in danger

State legislatures are trying to stop people from obtaining abortions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some lawmakers in Texas and Ohio — two states with notoriously anti-choice legislation — are attempting to include abortions among the surgeries and medical procedures which have been required to be delayed as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This comes after Trump administration officials asked “every American and every American hospital and healthcare facility to postpone any elective medical procedures” in order to lower the demand for hospital beds and personal protective equipment.

On March 22, Ohio’s attorney general ordered health care providers in the state to stop all “nonessential and elective surgical abortions,” Vox reported. It was not immediately clear what penalties those in violation of the new order will face, or how providers would determine which procedures are considered “nonessential.” That battle is still raging on in Ohio, where the state’s abortion clinics remain open, the New York Times reported. In a statement emailed to MTV News, Iris E. Harvey and Kersha Deibel, presidents and CEOs of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, said they are “complying with the Ohio Department of Health’s order regarding personal protective equipment, which requires hospitals and surgical facilities to stop providing non-essential surgeries and procedures and take other steps to reduce the use of equipment in short supply.”

“PPSWO’s attorney immediately responded to Ohio Attorney General Yost’s letter, assuring him that PPSWO was complying with Director Acton’s order,” the statement read. “Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to offer other health care services that our patients depend on. Our doors remain open for this care.”

On Monday (March 24), Texas’s attorney general Ken Paxton said the only abortions that would be legal to perform must be deemed “medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” According to CBS News, those in violation in Texas will face “penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.”

The states argue that these are inherently aggressive moves in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and free up potential beds for people in need of treatment for COVID-19 complications, the New York Times reports. But most medical professionals don't agree that this is the best way to help Americans. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Society for Academic Specialists in General Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Society of Family Planning, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine released a joint statement that said, while strategies to slow the spread of the virus include canceling elective and non-urgent procedures, access to abortion should not always be included in that strategy.

“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care,” the statement reads. “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.”

All eight groups said they “do not support COVID-19 responses that cancel or delay abortion procedures. Community-based and hospital-based clinicians should consider collaboration to ensure abortion access is not compromised during this time.”

As the Cut notes, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the world, and limiting access to abortion care can put vulnerable people in danger.

“Pregnancy-related care, especially abortion care, is essential... especially now when there is so much insecurity around jobs and food and paychecks and childcare,” Meera Shah, a chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in New York, told Refinery29. She added that her clinics are complying with all CDC guidelines and that patients have told her “they were scared that they may not have health insurance in the future, that they may not be able to get their appointments, that childcare is becoming more of an issue now with all of the schools closed.”

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