These states say abortions are essential during the coronavirus crisis
Mary Margaret Olohan on April 2, 2020
- As the United States grapples with obtaining enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to fight coronavirus, some states declared that abortion procedures are to be considered essential.
- Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Hawaii and Virginia deemed abortions essential during the outbreak.
- “Terminating a pregnancy is not considered a nonessential, elective invasive procedure,” a Massachusetts health official said.
As states ban non-essential medical procedures to preserve personal protective equipment, some states are declaring that abortions are essential.
Health departments under Republican governors in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Indiana and Iowa as well as the governor of Mississippi declared abortions non-essential and banned these procedures to preserve PPE for fighting coronavirus. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to these abortions bans with an assortment of lawsuits, in coordination with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and abortion providers in each of these states.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Hawaii and Virginia — all states that have banned elective medical procedures — deemed abortions essential during the outbreak.
Democratic attorney generals from Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin also weighed in to express support for abortion, though not all of these states have stated that abortion is essential.
“The safety and health of patients, health care providers, and our communities is paramount,” said Sean Rankin, the Democratic Attorneys General Association Executive Director. “We are grateful to the people on the front lines of this epidemic who are ensuring people get the care they desperately need including access to family planning services.”
Rankin added: “No one should use a public health crisis to push an ideological agenda, which is what we are now seeing. In the face of these actions, Democratic AGs will continue to work together to protect the people in their states and fight for the critical resources and essential services required. Especially in this moment, Americans are looking for leaders who are putting their needs first.”
Massachusetts Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality director Elizabeth Kelley released a memorandum March 15 saying that all procedures that are “non-essential, elective invasive” procedures will be postponed or canceled while Massachusetts is under a state of emergency.
Her clarification came after the public health commissioner ordered doctors to cancel all non-essential procedures March 10.
“Terminating a pregnancy is not considered a nonessential, elective invasive procedure for the purpose of this guidance,” the memorandum stated. “However, the ultimate decision is based on clinical judgment by the caring physician.”
The pro-life Massachusetts Citizens for Life told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement that the organization is “disheartened” to learn that abortion will still be permitted.
“Women’s health and safety should be our top priority now, as always,” Massachusetts Citizens for Life said. “Risking exposure to the highly contagious disease during visits to abortion clinics not only puts our women at risk but their families, clinic staff, and their loved ones as well.”
Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s March 20 executive order banning non-essential medical and dental procedures specifically noted that “pregnancy-related visits and procedures” are to be considered essential. The order differentiated between “pregnancy-related visits and procedures” and “labor and delivery.”
“It was explicit in the order that pregnancy-related care is included,” Lori Carpentier, Planned Parenthood of Michigan president and CEO, told the Lansing State Journal. “You can rest assured we didn’t leave it up to our own interpretation.”
The Susan B. Anthony List criticized Whitmer for allowing abortions to continue during the pandemic.
“Governor Whitmer requires Michiganders to delay important medical procedures deemed non-essential, and yet allows elective abortions to continue,” SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement Thursday. “Right now, we need to devote all of our resources to fighting this pandemic so that the most vulnerable can survive.”
She added: “Abortion is an elective procedure that ends the life of an innocent human being and diverts critical personal protective equipment (PPE) away from our health care workers who are on the front lines. Governor Whitmer should end these unnecessary procedures that further strain our health care system, and abortion businesses in the state should cooperate.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order exempts reproductive health care workers from this order and allows them to continue to work.
“One of the first worker exemptions listed in Minnesota’s Stay at Home order is for providers of reproductive health care,” said Democratic Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. “It’s that high up in the list because comprehensive reproductive health care is essential. I’m proud of Minnesota for recognizing that basic fact. I call on all states to do the same.”
Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order about social distancing and essential businesses March 20 that exempted reproductive health care providers from having to stay home.
Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy suspended all elective surgeries and invasive procedures March 23, but noted that this did not include “family planning and termination of pregnancies.”
“Explicit exemption for family planning and termination of pregnancies,” a March 23 press release from the governor’s office stated. “The order provides that it shall not be interpreted in any way to limit access to family planning services, including termination of pregnancies.”
The director of Community engagement at the Women’s Centers in New Jersey, Roxanne Sutocky, said in a statement that New Jersey is “listening to medical experts and expressly names abortion care as an essential medical service, ensuring outpatient and hospital-based care can remain available.”
“The state of New Jersey has long served as a leader in reproductive healthcare access and pregnant people can access the abortion care they seek without the interference of mandated waiting periods, forced parental involvement, or insurance restrictions,” Sutocky said, according to Rewire News.
The attorney general of Oregon, Ellen Rosenblum, said the state’s coronavirus executive order “exempts abortion services from its delay of non-urgent surgical procedures.”
“We will never budge from our guarantee of reproductive rights — including timely access to abortion services,” Rosenblum said.
The attorney general of Hawaii said reproductive health care will continue during the coronavirus pandemic.
“While the current situation is burdening many sectors of our society, there is no basis to infringe upon a woman’s right to safe medical services, including reproductive health care, as part of the government’s response to COVID-19,” Democratic Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors said in a statement to Rewire News.
Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s March 25 public health emergency order banning elective medical procedures noted that ‘the full suite of family planning services and procedures” are excluded from the ban.
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