In decisions that deal blows to women’s rights and violate constitutional protections, the governments of Ohio and Texas have banned abortions, using the spread of the coronavirus as a pretext.
On March 17 Ohio’s Department of Health ordered all abortion providers to immediately stop performing the operation. Attorney General David Yost, three days later, declared abortions are “nonessential” medical procedures and the personal protective equipment used to carry them out is needed for coronavirus treatment. Under the order women would be forced to carry pregnancies to termination against their will.
This is the latest step in the state government’s attacks on women’s right to choose, which have already led to severe restrictions. Last year a U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction against an Ohio law that bans women from getting an abortion if doctors can detect a heartbeat in the embryo, something that is possible within five weeks of a pregnancy.
The heads of two Planned Parenthood clinics issued a statement in response to Yost’s order, saying that they will “still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion. … Our doors remain open for this care.”
“The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health and well-being,” said a March 18 statement by organizations representing physicians working in reproductive health, in response to the Ohio state ban.
On March 22 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order “to expand hospital bed capacity as the state responds to the COVID-19 virus.” The following day Attorney General Ken Paxton “clarified” the order, saying abortions are one of the procedures not “medically necessary” and must be stopped.
Paxton threatened that failure to comply can result in a fine of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.
Texas has a slew of restrictions that make abortion very difficult for women to access. There are also few clinics outside the state’s big cities. As a result, the extra costs of travel for working-class women and those living in rural areas make abortion even harder to access.
The state has mandatory counseling to discourage women from getting the procedure; waiting periods; complicated protocols for medical abortions; parental consent for minors; and an obligation that the patient be shown an ultrasound image of the fetus. In addition, health plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act only permit abortion when a woman’s life or mental health is in danger.