Abortion has been included as a nonessential surgery in Texas and Ohio in yet another attempt by lawmakers to ban abortion in the midst of a global pandemic. While the states pointed to a desire to save personal protective equipment for healthcare workers fighting COVID-19, abortion rights activists claim that abortion is, in fact, essential because potential patients are unable to wait until this indefinite pandemic ends.
The attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, announced Monday that “any abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” will result in fines up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail. Texas followed the lead of Ohio after similar actions taken by authorities last week and has historically been a site of attempts to severely restrict abortion access.
The actions taken by state officials are clearly political stunts attempting to capitalize on the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, particularly in light of the fact that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that abortion not be on the list of medical procedures that should be postponed due to the outbreak.
After Ohio issued a mandate to delay all nonessential surgeries on Wednesday, the office of Ohio’s attorney general sent letters to abortion clinics ordering them to cease “performing all nonessential and elective surgical abortions.” Despite complaints to the state’s Department of Health from anti-abortion groups such as Ohio Right to Life, abortion clinics remain open after negotiations with the attorney general. The CEOs of two different Planned Parenthood affiliates in Ohio said in response that their clinics are in complete compliance and had already begun to cut back on the use of equipment.
“Abortion care is a time-sensitive medical situation that cannot be significantly delayed without profound consequences,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement. “Ohio’s elected officials should not stand between patients and their doctors.”
Ohio was the first state in the U.S. in 2011 to introduce a so-called “heartbeat” bill that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy–before the time many women even know they are pregnant. Though heartbeat bills have gained popularity in conservative states such as Iowa and Georgia, they have been largely struck down by the courts.
Louisiana also issued a similar order last weekend, and as of now clinics have temporarily suspended abortion services.
Sources: New York Times, 3/23/20; New York Daily News, 3/23/20; The Guardian, 3/23/20; Vox, 3/22/20.