Texas halts abortion services amid coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus

(CBS News) — The Texas Attorney General’s office on Monday ordered all clinics that provide abortion to immediately stop providing the procedure in order to comply with the state’s temporary suspension of surgeries that are not deemed “medically necessary,” according to a statement from the office shared with CBS News. Texas is the latest state to halt abortion services amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to the Attorney General’s office, “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” must be suspended. Those in violation will face “penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.”

On Sunday evening, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order “to expand hospital bed capacity as the state responds to the COVID-19 virus.” On Monday afternoon, the state’s Attorney General, Ken Paxton, clarified that abortion services would need to be suspended as part of that directive.

“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers,” Paxton said in a statement shared with CBS News on Monday afternoon. “Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”

At the time of publication, it was not immediately clear whether or not the state’s 22 health clinics that offer the procedure would comply with the order. A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said the organization was reviewing the order, and did not clarify whether its three health clinics in Texas would stop offering all abortion services.

“The priority of all Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas is the health and safety of our patients and staff, and ensuring that Texans can access essential health care, including abortion,” said Ken Lambrecht, Melaney A. Linton, and Jeffrey Hons, the respective heads of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood South Texas, in a statement shared with CBS News.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates three health centers in Texas that offer abortion, said abortion was “essential healthcare, and… a time-sensitive procedure.”

“Emergency actions during a global pandemic should advance health and safety for us all, not force people to delay much-needed care and possibly exacerbate their health situations by doing so,” Miller said in a statement to CBS News on Monday. “Patients cannot wait until this pandemic is over to receive safe abortion care.”

A spokesperson for Whole Woman’s Health did not specify whether the clinics planned to comply with Paxton’s order.

Texas joins Ohio in ordering the suspension of abortion service as part of state-wide directives to preserve personal protective equipment and other medical resources for those treating coronavirus. Over the weekend, Ohio’s attorney general issued guidance that any abortion procedure requiring the use of personal protective equipment, which includes things like gloves and masks, must stop as part of the state Health Department’s directive to discontinue “non-essential” surgeries. 

But at least five of Ohio’s six surgical providers say abortion is essential and time-sensitive. Because of that, they say there won’t be any interruption of services.

“Planned Parenthood’s top priority is ensuring that every person can continue accessing essential health care, including abortion. We know your health care can’t wait,” said Iris E. Harvey and Kersha Deibel, the respective heads of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, in a statement provided to CBS News. “Abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure.”

In Texas, access to abortion is already limited, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion-rights research organization. Patients seeking the procedure must undergo state-directed counseling designed to discourage them from having an abortion. Doctors are also not allowed to perform an abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, or 22 weeks after a patient’s last menstrual cycle unless the patient’s life was in jeopardy, they faced “severely compromised physical health,” or the fetus faced “lethal anomaly,” according to Guttmacher.

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