Texas, Ohio order clinics to halt abortion procedures amid coronavirus

The reproductive rights group NARAL accused officials of "exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to further their agenda to close Ohio's abortion clinics."
Image: Texas Abortion CLinic
Clinic manager Angelle Harris walks in the front door of the Whole Woman's Health clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sept. 4, 2019.Tony Gutierrez / AP file

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By Allan Smith

Texas ordered a halt on surgical abortion procedures Monday because of the growing coronavirus epidemic, two days after officials in Ohio issued a similar order.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office said in a statement that abortion providers were among the licensed health care professionals and facilities that would have to cease procedures deemed "not immediately medically necessary" following an executive order issued Saturday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

"We must work together as Texans to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our health care professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time," Paxton said. "No one is exempt from the governor's executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor's order will be met with the full force of the law."

Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

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Planned Parenthood, which operates some of the state's abortion-providing health clinics, said in a statement that they are still reviewing the Texas order.

"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," the statement said. "As recognized by medical experts, abortion is a time-sensitive medical procedure. A delay of 30 days, or even less, can make abortion completely inaccessible."

The statement was signed by Ken Lambrecht, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas; Melaney A. Linton, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast; and Jeffrey Hons, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood South Texas.

"Along with other health care providers, Planned Parenthood health centers are conserving needed health care resources and committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients and staff," they continued.

Texas follows Ohio in ordering the temporary prohibition of surgical abortions as states limit operations they deem elective or nonessential.

On Saturday, Ohio Attorney General David Yost sent a letter ordering two of the state's clinics to stop surgical abortions immediately to preserve personal protective equipment.

"On behalf of the Department, you and your facility are ordered to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions," each letter states, NBC affiliate WCMH of Columbus reported. "Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient."

The letters were sent to clinics in Dayton and Cincinnati.

The latter clinic, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, said in a statement that it could comply with the original state department of health order regarding personal protective equipment while still "providing essential procedures, including surgical abortions."

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NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland accused officials of "exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to further their agenda to close Ohio's abortion clinics."

"Abortion care is a time-sensitive medical situation that cannot be significantly delayed without profound consequences," she said, adding: "Ohio's elected officials should not stand between patients and their doctors."

She said the state's "abortion providers are fully complying with the Ohio Department of Health’s orders, and they remain open to provide their patients timely access to the essential care they need."