Anti-abortion groups seek halt to abortions during coronavirus pandemic

The organizations said in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar that the move would free up medical equipment.
Image: Anti-abortion rights demonstrators outside the Supreme Court
Anti-abortion rights demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on March 4, 2020.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

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By Chloe Atkins

More than 50 anti-abortion groups have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling on public health officials to urge abortion providers to cease operations during the coronavirus outbreak.

In the letter Tuesday, the anti-abortion groups said a halt in abortions would free up needed medical equipment for the coronavirus response. The coalition also asked public health officials to ensure that emergency response funds are not given to abortion providers and that telemedicine abortion is not expanded during the outbreak.

The letter was signed by leaders from more than 50 anti-abortion groups, including Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life and the Family Research Council, among others.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony List, said Azar has been a strong supporter of President Donald Trump's anti-abortion policies.

"We urge abortion centers to put health and safety first ... and free up desperately needed medical resources for use in fighting the spread of coronavirus," Dannenfelser said.

The letter comes just days after Ohio and Texas ordered clinics to stop abortion procedures amid coronavirus concerns.

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However, Planned Parenthood isn't standing down.

On Wednesday, a group of Texas abortion providers represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project sued Texas after the state pushed to ban abortions because of the coronavirus outbreak. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said this week in a statement that health care professionals, includ­ing abor­tion providers, must immediately pause all medically unnecessary surgeries and pro­ce­dures.

"This week our clinic staff had to cancel over 150 appointments. They listened to patients sobbing and witnessed their feelings of helplessness, sometimes even resorting to begging for the abortions they needed," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health and Whole Woman's Health Alliance, which operates three clinics in Texas.

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that anti-abortion activists are exploiting the pandemic to push their agenda.

Anti-abortion rights activists offer anti-abortion material to women entering the Women's Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The clinic is Mississippi's only state-licensed abortion facility.Rogelio V. Solis / AP

"A public health emergency is not the time to play politics. The safety and health of patients, our staff and our communities must remain the highest priority as our country faces an unprecedented crisis," Johnson said. "Delays or additional barriers to care can make it more difficult or even impossible for some patients to access safe, legal abortion."

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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other reproductive health groups issued a joint statement last week that said that abortion is a time-sensitive, essential service and that a delay in care can put a woman at risk.

"Medically unnecessary regulations that are barriers to patient care that many states have put in place over the past decade should be rescinded or relaxed, especially during this time," said Dr. Ted Anderson, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Forcing a patient to continue pregnancy can pose threats to the safety and health of the patient."