Five states have sought to block access to abortion by deeming it not “necessary” during the pandemic — sending patients scrambling to get care.
Texas and four other states have sought to use the pandemic as an excuse to suspend people’s access to abortion, characterizing it as “not immediately necessary.”
This should go without saying: when abortion is needed, it’s needed immediately. A global pandemic is no time to play political games with Americans’ access to time-sensitive health care services. And yet, when we should be working together to ensure everyone has access to the health care they need, anti-abortion extremists are instead wasting valuable time and resources.
You need to know we're here with you — and that we’re fighting back. Read on to see how.
Why Reproductive Health Care — Including Abortion — Is Essential
Here’s the background: In an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep hospital beds open, many states are calling for “non-essential” medical procedures to be postponed until the pandemic subsides. Non-essential or “elective” medical procedures does not mean optional or unimportant — they’re just not urgent, meaning they don’t require immediate treatment. So, surgeries for early-stage cancer, joint replacement, or having a gallbladder removed are getting pushed back in states with these new, temporary restrictions.
That’s challenging by itself. These changes are leaving some patients stressed out and unsettled, even “feeling as if a time bomb was inside” them.
So what does it mean for a state to include abortion in its list of non-essential medical procedures? Imagine how you’d feel if politicians postponed your abortion appointment until the pandemic ends — a milestone that could take well into 2021 to reach. That’s what anti-abortion politicians in Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Alabama and Oklahoma have tried to do. They’re ignoring the time-sensitive nature of abortion and lumping abortion into their lists of non-essential medical procedures.
Medical experts agree that abortion access is not optional. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology, abortion is an essential and time-sensitive medical procedure.
We can’t believe we really need to say this — but during a pandemic, people need more access to birth control, abortion, and other reproductive health care, not less.
Five States Exploiting a Public-Health Crisis
The states using the pandemic to try to ban abortion and cut patients off from care are (so far): Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Ohio, and Alabama. Their cruel, dangerous abortion bans ignore the fact that abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care — while doing nothing to show how these states would provide extra care for pregnant women or newborns amid the spread of COVID-19.
In Texas on March 22, Governor Greg Abbott banned all procedures that are “not immediately medically necessary” — and he lumped abortion into that group, with the only exception in cases where the pregnancy would cause significant harm to the pregnant person.
The Texas abortion ban forced abortion providers across the state to immediately cancel all scheduled appointments for safe, legal abortion. Whole Women’s Health alone had to cancel 150 appointments, reporting that patients cried and expressed feelings of helplessness. Some patients whose abortion appointments were canceled reportedly drove hundreds of miles to access care elsewhere — a race against the clock before bans on abortion later in pregnancy kicked in. It’s unclear what other patients did.
We’ve taken Texas to court: To ensure that people can still access the health care they need, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project filed a lawsuit against the Texas abortion ban. On March 30, a federal judge blocked Texas from banning abortion as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak — but on the next day, a federal appeals court temporarily reinstated the Texas ban.
Ohio had the same bad idea as Texas. On March 22, the Ohio attorney general ordered all abortion clinics to stop performing any abortion in which the mother’s health was not at risk, declaring them “non-essential.” The move was in response to anti-abortion fringe groups, which wouldn’t stop harassing state officials until they promised to attack people’s access to safe and legal abortion. During the resulting confusion, Ohio providers had to delay appointments.
We got a restraining order against Ohio: On March 30, abortion providers in Ohio — represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Ohio, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), along with local Ohio lawyers — took emergency legal action to ensure that they can remain open to provide time-sensitive, critical abortion care to patients. And the same day, a federal judge granted Ohio abortion providers a temporary restraining order to allow abortion services to continue for the time being.
On March 24, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered all “elective” medical and surgical procedures to be postponed. Along with the order, he made a point of prohibiting abortion specifically.
We took them to court: On March 30, the Center for Reproductive Rights, PPFA, and Dechert LLP challenged Gov. Stitt’s order.
On March 27, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds followed suit. She banned surgical abortion right along with other “non-essential” care.
How are we fighting back? You guessed it — in court: On March 30, the ACLU of Iowa, PPFA on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and the Emma Goldman Clinic filed a lawsuit against Reynolds and other Iowa state officials.
Earlier in March, Alabama’s Department of Public Health’s also imposed a ban on non-essential health care, but it seemed to exempt abortion providers — at first. At least one of Alabama’s abortion providers got an influx of callers from Texas seeking appointments — and from protesters threatening to report them to the health department for remaining open.
On March 28, Alabama’s attorney general expanded the ban to include “all medical and surgical procedures” except those required to treat emergency conditions that put patients’ health in “serious jeopardy.” Given the risk of licensure penalties and being convicted of a crime, abortion providers were forced to cancel appointments and stop providing abortions.
Another successful lawsuit: The ACLU and Alabama abortion providers are suing the state Department of Public Health to stop it from using the excuse of the COVID-19 crisis to block people’s access to abortion services. Thanks to that lawsuit, on March 30 a federal court blocked the policy so that safe, legal abortion care can continue in Alabama.
We’re fighting back, but more states could follow the lead of declaring abortion “non-essential” — including Missisippi, which only has one abortion provider.
What Happens When People Can’t Get Safe, Legal Abortion Care
People prevented from getting a safe, legal abortion will have few options:
Travel to another state — if they have the resources to take off work and make the trip — and risk exposing themselves or others to the new coronavirus,
Try to self-manage an abortion, or
Wait until it is too late and they cannot get the care they need — which could also mean prenatal visits to doctors and hospitals already stretched thin by the pandemic, increasing the potential of exposure to COVID-19.
Now is the time to protect abortion access. Nobody should be forced to have a child against their will.
We’re Fighting Back
No matter what, Planned Parenthood won’t stop fighting for you. Fight with us if you believe abortion access is ESSENTIAL — now and always.