(CBS News) — Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves called for abortion to be halted in the state amid the coronavirus pandemic, joining several other traditionally anti-abortion rights states in restricting the procedure. Mississippi is already one of the most hostile states toward abortion access, home to only one clinic that offers the procedure.
In a press conference Tuesday, Reeves told reporters that the state’s directive to postpone all “elective” and “non-essential” medical procedures applies to abortion services, and he vowed to levy “whatever action we need to to protect the not only the lives of unborn children, but also the lives of anyone who may contract this particular virus.”
However, it did not immediately appear as if the state’s top health official, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, was on board. At the press conference, Dobbs said he would “review the situation a bit more” and did not specify whether abortion services would indeed be discontinued.
The Mississippi State Department of Health did not immediately return a call on Wednesday requesting clarification on whether or not abortion would be halted. Mississippi is one of five states with just one abortion provider. The state also was one of a handful to pass a so-called “fetal heartbeat ban” last year, an abortion restriction that prohibits the procedure just five or six weeks into a person’s pregnancy.
If abortion services are temporarily suspended, Mississippi would become the third state to effectively ban to procedure amid the coronavirus outbreak. As states have issued directives to halt elective and non-essential procedures in an effort to preserve much-needed medical resources, some, including Texas and Ohio, have interpreted that to include abortion services.
Major medical professional groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have disagreed, calling abortion “time sensitive” and a “essential component of comprehensive health care.”
Abortion rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood, have accused the states of taking advantage of the global pandemic to unnecessarily restrict abortion access.
“A public health emergency is not the time to play politics,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement shared with CBS News. “The safety and health of patients, our staff, and our communities must remain the highest priority as our country faces an unprecedented crisis. Abortion is an essential and time-sensitive medical procedure.”
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