US States Move To Enforce Coronavirus-Related Bans On “Nonessential” Abortions

An abortion supporter shouts into a bull horn of an anti-abortion activist under police protection at the 2019 Women’s March in Washington. Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock

Several states are attempting to ban health workers from providing abortions, arguing that it is a “nonessential” procedure deemed unnecessary under state-mandated emergency declarations.

An appeals judge has decided to allow Texas to follow through with its ban on all abortions unless the pregnancy poses a threat to the woman’s life or health risk. It comes after Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Alabama have enacted similar bans amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Judges in Ohio and Alabama recently overturned such rulings, though lawsuits are pending in Oklahoma and Iowa.

Lawmakers contend that such moves will free up necessary resources and personal protective equipment necessary to the fight against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the respiratory illness COVID-19. Healthcare providers and civil rights organizations argue that the bans come as a political move pushing an agenda – rather than “what’s best for women and their families” – and falls short of maintaining PPE.

“It takes a lot more supplies to take care of pregnant women who are delivering and the number of supplies that are used during an abortion are minimal, especially for an early abortion,” Dr Mitchel Creinin, a gynecologist and professor at UC Davis Health, told IFLScience in an interview. He adds that nine-of-10 abortions that occur take place within the first trimester where the amount of supplies used is minimal.

Dr Creinin argues that there is “zero evidence” such decisions will protect women or that delaying an abortion or mandating a delivery will preserve PPE.

“It puts a pit in your stomach to realize there are women who live in our country who are being told that they are no value,” he adds. “That your personal needs for you and your family are of no value. It’s reprehensible.”

Texas abortion providers including Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, sued the governor and other state officials to “ensure that patients can continue to access essential, time-sensitive abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic.” A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order to allow abortion services to continue in the state on March 30, but the court issued a stay in in the ban. Planned Parenthood says the move “puts people across Texas in a perilous position” as they “scramble to access care during a public health crisis.”  

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argues that the decision “justly prioritizes supplies and personal protective equipment for the medical professionals in need."

“The Governor’s Order temporarily halting unnecessary medical procedures, including abortion, applies to all health care facilities and professionals equally as Texans come together to combat this medical crisis,” he said in a statement.

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