Abortion rights advocates are taking legal action over abortion restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic and arguing they are “essential services.”
TheHill reports abortion rights groups sued government officials in Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and Alabama on Monday to ensure access to abortion during the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials in those states have either said that orders suspending nonessential medical procedures apply to abortions or have issued directives that left providers unclear about whether they are running afoul of the law.
The pause on nonessential procedures across the country is meant to conserve masks and gloves for health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Several governors have issued such orders but divisions have emerged between red and blue states over whether abortion is an essential procedure.
Abortion rights groups argue that the pandemic is being used by some states as a guise to block abortion access.
“A global pandemic is not an excuse to attack essential, time-sensitive medical procedures like abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the groups bringing the lawsuits.
Under a proclamation issued by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) last week, all nonessential medical procedures are suspended until April 16.
Reynolds’s office clarified Friday in a statement to the Des Moines Register that the suspension includes abortion, joining governors in Ohio, Texas and Missouri who have taken similar actions.
Alabama also suspended elective surgeries, but abortion providers in the state had been unable to get clarification on whether that included abortion. Doctors who continue performing non-essential services could be subject to criminal penalties.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R), meanwhile, sent letters to abortion providers earlier this month ordering they stop performing “non-essential or elective surgical abortions.” State officials, including Gov. Mike DeWine, have made contradictory remarks in recent days about whether surgical abortions would be allowed under the order.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) also said last week that the suspension of elective surgeries in his state also applied to abortions. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood is representing abortion providers in the lawsuit against Oklahoma. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are part of the lawsuits in Iowa, Ohio and Alabama.
Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights also filed suit last week against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for suspending abortions.
Meanwhile, governors in Virginia, New Jersey, Washington and New York have said abortion is an essential medical procedure that can be continued during the pandemic.
Per TCO, the NY Times editorial board is calling for more resources for abortions during the coronavirus.
The editorial board writes:
It’s hardly new for anti-abortion politicians to seize on any excuse to try to restrict women’s bodily autonomy, but it is a new low to exploit a pandemic that’s already cost hundreds of American lives, and threatens many thousands more.
In recent days, leaders in several states — including Texas, Ohio and Louisiana — have pushed to close abortion clinics or severely curtail access, arguing that abortion is a nonessential procedure that ought to be delayed.
The “nonessential” bit is obvious nonsense and the delay a transparent attempt to put abortion out of reach for those who need it. As several major health care groups noted in a joint statement last week: “Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. 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.”
These state leaders know that once an abortion clinic closes for any significant period, it becomes difficult to reopen. That’s why Texas has fewer clinics today than it did before the enactment of its restrictive 2013 anti-abortion law, which aimed to regulate clinics out of existence. Though the law was struck down by the Supreme Court three years later, many clinics were never able to staff back up and become operational again.
Surely all of this is top of mind for Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat opposed to abortion, as the Supreme Court prepares to decide on a case involving a Louisiana law that’s nearly identical to Texas’. That decision, expected in June, could close all but one abortion clinic in Louisiana. But that might be a moot point by then, if all the clinics in the state already have been closed under the pretense of public health.
It’s important to note that these state leaders may not be successful — clinics in Ohio have remained open while the matter makes its way through the courts.
But these efforts underline a real problem for people seeking reproductive health care amid this crisis: Much more of this care needs to be able to happen from home.
Experts say that most patients seeking birth control and even abortions performed via medication can do so safely without traveling to a health care facility. But there are political and regulatory roadblocks that must be cleared to make widespread at-home access to reproductive health care possible.
In the coming weeks, unintended pregnancies could rise as a result of people being stuck in their homes, potentially without consistent access to birth control. Among those who would choose to have an abortion — there were about 860,000 abortions in America in 2017 — an increasing number might not be able to get those services, either because of the dangers of traveling (for patients and abortion providers alike), a growing inability to afford the procedure or the need to take care of homebound children and other family members.
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