As states attempt to make decisions about public health amid concerns about community spread of COVID-19, there are a few complications in the reproductive health space that could have lasting effect on people with uteruses. In Texas and Ohio, officials announced that they were including surgical abortions as “nonessential” surgeries or medical procedures — which would effectively ban abortions for people who are 10 weeks pregnant or more (making the window for people to get procedures they need even smaller than it already is in those states).
Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote in a statement on Saturday that “all licensed health care professionals and all licensed health care facilities shall postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who without immediate performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death, as determined by the patient’s physician.” On Monday, Attorney General Ken Paxton released an updated statement that it includes “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”
The New York Times reports that abortion clinics in Dayton. Cincinnati and Cleveland received letters warning them to “immediately stop performing nonessential and elective surgical abortions.”
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In a statement posted on Twitter, the Planned Parenthood of the Southwest Ohio Region posted that they have complied with orders to halt surgeries that weren’t essential, but note that Planned Parenthood does count surgical abortions as “essential procedures.”
It should be noted that both Texas and Ohio are states with a number of restrictions to abortion access including state-directed counseling, ultrasounds and wait times and restrictions to abortions after 20 or more weeks postfertilization (22 weeks after the last menstrual period).
Adding to the chorus of medical voices noting that abortions are necessary medical procedures, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology and several other organizations released a joint statement earlier in the month emphasizing the importance of protecting abortion access throughout the coronavirus outbreak.
“While most abortion care is delivered in outpatient settings, in some cases care may be delivered in hospital-based settings or surgical facilities. To the extent that hospital systems or ambulatory surgical facilities are categorizing procedures that can be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, abortion should not be categorized as such a procedure,” the statement read. “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. [The medical organizations] 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.”