Orders by the governors of Texas and Ohio to stop all non-essential surgeries in those states have unleashed a new battle over access to abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide order Sunday to curb the use of medical supplies hospitals will need as they prepare for escalating infections in the spreading of COVID-19. The order bars hospitals from performing surgeries unless the patient faces an immediate risk for "serious adverse medical consequences or death, as determined by the patient's physician."
An Abbott spokesman confirmed that would cover abortion in most cases while the order is in place until April 21.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the COVID-19 pandemic has created an increased demand for hospital beds and personal protective equipment and that postponing elective surgeries leaves some of those beds available for COVID-19 patients.
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“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,” said Paxton. “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.”
Paxton said Monday afternoon that anyone failing to comply with the governor's executive order faces fines up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.
Texas anti-abortion activists hailed the move amid the COVID-19 crisis.
"The abortion industry has been consuming and hoarding medical supplies that are in desperate need around the state including masks, gloves, and other protective gear for medical professionals," Texas Right to Life said in a statement Monday.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Clinics in Ohio received letters from Republican Attorney General Dave Yost on Friday ordering them to cease all "non-essential" surgical abortions. Yost wrote that the procedures violate a March 17 order issued by the state health director.
Clinics, abortion rights groups and some state lawmakers pushed back, saying abortions are both essential and time-sensitive.
"During an emergency, there is always a chance of government overreach under the guise of `security' or adherence to `law and order,'" the Ohio Democratic Women's Legislative Caucus said in a statement. "In times of national crisis, we have seen egregious acts that have circumvented our freedoms before. And make no mistake - we are seeing them today."
Bethany McCorkle, a spokesman for Yost, said the orders sent to three clinic operators are not political. She said they were sent in response to complaints and similar to those sent to a urology practice that was also violating the order.