Money Management

Texas and Ohio include abortion as medical procedures that should be delayed

Texas and Ohio have included abortions among the surgeries and non-essential medical procedures they need to delay, setting off a new front in the fight for abortion rights amid the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Both states have said they are trying to preserve extremely valuable protective gear for healthcare workers and make room for a potential influx of coronavirus patients.

But abortion rights activists have said abortions should be seen as essential and people cannot wait for the procedure until the pandemic is over.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Monday that the postponement of surgeries and medical procedures announced by Governor Greg Abbott during the weekend included “Any type of abortion which is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother”.

Failure to do so, he said, could result in penalties of up to $ 1,000 or 180 days in jail. It was not immediately clear whether this included medical abortion, which involves providers administering pills in the early stages of pregnancy.

The move follows similar action by Ohio health officials last week and sparked a legal rush from abortion rights groups to preserve access. Activists have accused heads of state of using the coronavirus crisis to advance a political agenda to restrict abortions. They pointed out that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a respected society of medical professionals, recommended last week that abortion not be included in the list of medical procedures likely to be postponed.

“Instead of trying to deflect attention with ideology, state lawmakers should focus on prioritizing public health and safety measures,” said Tara Pohlmeyer, communications manager at Progress Texas, a group which supports the right to abortion.

States, for their part, have said they are trying to protect public health and preserve essential medical equipment at a time when the country’s health infrastructure is at risk of being overwhelmed. Mr Paxton said in his statement that routine dermatological, ophthalmic and dental procedures, as well as orthopedic surgeries, were also included.

“Ultimately, these abortions must be delayed,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, one of the state’s leading anti-abortion groups. He said Texas did not “single out any particular procedure or segment of the health care industry.”

Monday’s announcement in Texas prompted abortion rights advocates and their lawyers to rush to determine the likelihood of clinics needing to shut down abortion services.

“We are still waiting for various local legal teams and providers to study what this means,” said The Right Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President of the National Abortion Federation.

Texas has always been at the forefront of reducing access to abortion. The last major Supreme Court decision on abortion, in 2016, involved restrictive law in Texas. But it was still not clear Monday night whether state abortion clinics would stop providing services. Some seemed determined to continue.

“Patients cannot wait until the end of this pandemic to receive safe abortion care,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, the abortion clinic at the center of the Supreme Court’s decision, in a press release.

In Ohio, where anti-abortion activists have gained influence in recent years, health officials have ordered all non-essential surgeries to be postponed from 5 p.m. Wednesday. On Friday and Saturday, the state attorney general’s office sent warning letters to abortion clinics in Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland, telling them to “immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions.”

Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said the letters were based on complaints that reached the Ohio Department of Health. At least one was from Ohio Right to Life, an abortion advocacy group, said its chairman, Michael Gonidakis.

In an email sent to supporters on Saturday, Mr Gonidakis said he sent a letter to Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio warning its president, Iris E. Harvey, that “by performing surgical abortions, your company is putting the health and safety of all Ohioans at risk.

For now, however, the state’s abortion clinics remain open. Lawyers for several of them argued with state attorney general Dave Yost that abortions were in fact essential surgeries and clinics had no intention of stopping.

“Our doors remain open,” Chrisse France, president of Preterm, an abortion clinic in Cleveland, said on Monday. Ms. Harvey and Kersha Deibel, president of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, said the same thing.

Louisiana was another state to issue An order over the weekend saying non-essential medical procedures would be delayed. An anti-abortion group, Louisiana Right to Life, released a statement Monday saying Hope Medical Group, one of the state’s remaining abortion providers, was closed. But Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic, denied this.

“Our client Hope Medical Group is still open,” Ms. Northup said in a statement.

Manny Fernandez contributed reporting from Texas.