Legislators in Texas, Ohio and Mississippi instituted a set of conservative restrictions, deeming abortions as non-essential surgeries in the wake of the coronavirus.
Mississippi and Ohio are among a handful of states who issued restrictive abortion bans last year, nearly outlawing abortion procedures for individuals who elect to have the procedure. Several of the bans are still being litigated in court.
Governors and attorney generals from Texas, Ohio and Mississippi claim abortion procedures are cutting into the limited supply medical professionals need to combat the pandemic. At least 25 states have issued measures in response to a White House directive to delay elective procedures, CNN reports, opening a door for a state by state interpretation of what qualifies as a non-essential procedure.
On Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a directive stating that he would take action against any clinic issuing abortions in the state. Providers can be jailed or fined $1,000 or face 180 days imprisonment for not following orders, according to CNN.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves followed suit, threatening to shutter the state’s lone abortion clinic, The Pink House. “We’re doing everything in our power, and have for many years, to make Mississippi the safest place in America for unborn children,” Reeves said during a Tuesday news conference.
Last week in Ohio, Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson sent three abortion providers and a urologist letters directing them to comply with the state’s order to halt non-essential procedures.
However, abortion rights activists are calling their bluff, stating that these politicians are using the coronavirus pandemic to push an anti-abortion agenda. Mississippi and Ohio are among a handful of states who issued restrictive abortion bans last year, nearly outlawing abortion procedures for individuals who elect to have the procedure. Black women and other communities of color serve to suffer the greatest from these measures as they already experience limited health access.
On Wednesday abortion-rights groups in Texas rallied to file an emergency lawsuit to keep abortion procedures available, with the backing of Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project.
“The Afiya Center serves Black women who do not have a lot of resources,” said Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center located in Dallas, Texas. “For many of them, our organization is their final stop when they need abortion and reproductive health care. The last thing that Black women in Texas need to worry about is whether they can get the essential care they need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Black women and other women of color already face barriers to accessing health care services. This is a time when we should all be pulling together to fight this virus, not infusing political agendas to score points at the expense of women accessing necessary health services.”
“We will not stand by as the Governor of Texas and these anti-abortion groups put the health of our patients, and the community, at risk,” Alexis McGill-Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “Elected leaders are expending valuable time and resources exploiting a global pandemic to score political points instead of rallying to respond to this crisis. This will place lives in jeopardy. This is a distraction that Americans, including patients we serve in communities nationwide, cannot afford.”
Medical professionals have also weighed in on the measures. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement saying they do not “support COVID-19 responses that cancel or delay abortion procedures.”
“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.”