WASHINGTON — Health-care facilities across the United States have postponed nonessential surgeries and saved personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves for treating COVID-19 patients amid the ongoing pandemic — but many abortion facilities consider themselves exempt from orders postponing nonessential surgeries.
In Texas and Ohio, where abortion facilities, including Planned Parenthood, are doing business as usual and utilizing medical supplies that are desperately needed elsewhere, political leaders are pushing back against the abortion industry’s continued operations.
In a statement Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton specified that “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” was included in Gov. Greg Abbott’s March 22 order to postpone nonessential procedures.
“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.”
On Wednesday evening, Planned Parenthood, Whole Woman’s Health and other Texas abortion providers filed a lawsuit against the order with the help of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The groups are seeking a temporary restraining order and ultimately a permanent injunction against the governor’s order.
“There are people in Texas who need an abortion today. Now. They cannot wait a delay of 30 days or even less,” Planned Parenthood’s acting president, Alexis McGill Johnson, told reporters Wednesday evening.
John Seago, legislative director at Texas Right to Life, told the Register that “there’s a pattern of the abortion industry always trying to be the exception, always trying to say, ‘The standards don’t apply to us.’ When we pass a pro-life law, they run to the courts and say, ‘We shouldn’t have to follow these safety regulations.’ We expected this would be very similar.”
“We see this solidarity in the medical community: that we need to put all of our resources together to save lives,” Seago added, noting that other nonessential health-care providers had closed and sent supplies to assist in treating coronavirus patients, “You’re seeing the abortion industry, the outlier, trying to keep business as usual, which is a threat to public health.”
In Ohio, Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson sent warning letters last week to three abortion businesses, Planned Parenthood Ohio Southwest Region, Women’s Med Center in Dayton and a Preterm facility in Cleveland, directing them to comply with the Ohio Department of Health’s March 17 executive order to halt nonessential procedures.
Fulkerson wrote that the order was because of the need to preserve personal protective equipment “for health-care providers who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading in our state” and to “preserve critical hospital capacity and resources.”
Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Press Secretary Melanie Amato told the Register that the department “has been made aware of allegations that some health-care providers appear to have violated the order on performing nonelective procedures. When ODH is made aware of allegations that medical facilities are not being compliant with ODH’s order, ODH is asking the Ohio attorney general’s office to issue cease-and-desist orders. These orders have started going out. This is now an enforcement issue.”
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio claimed it is complying with the order, but “under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion.” Its statement added, “Abortion is an essential and time-sensitive medical procedure — and it must remain so during this public-health crisis.”
Iris Harvey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said in a statement, “Planned Parenthood is in full compliance with the Ohio Department of Health orders and continues to operate while responsibly using personal protective equipment during this pandemic crisis. Abortion is a time-sensitive and essential medical service. Ohioans can continue to rely on us for safe, legal, surgical abortions.”
Preterm Ohio said that it is “complying with the Ohio Department of Health’s order. Under this order, Preterm can continue providing essential surgeries and procedures, including time-sensitive, essential surgical abortion care. We provided assurance to ODH and the attorney general that we are in compliance with its order.”
Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis sent a letter to Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio Monday saying, “By performing surgical abortions, your company is putting the health and safety of all Ohioans in danger. As you should know, COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can result in death and can be easily spread from person to person. Your reckless actions are hurting our collective efforts to flatten the curve and defeat COVID-19.”
Gonidakis told the Register that, “right now, they’re thumbing their nose at the director of health, the governor and the attorney general, saying, ‘We’re staying open no matter what,’ so we need our attorney general to enforce this order in a court of law and shut them down to stop the spread.”
“Why are they allowed to stay open when other true lifesaving clinics are not allowed to stay open?” Gonidakis said. “They’re putting profit ahead of public safety. They’re putting their thirst for abortion ahead of a global pandemic.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves recently stated that he considered abortion a nonessential procedure amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, other states such as hard-hit Washington and New Jersey have specified that abortions are essential and can continue. In New York, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is more than 30,000 and the death toll reached nearly 200 Wednesday, abortion facilities remain open.
“Our doors will stay open because sexual and reproductive health care is extremely important, and we have to ensure access to it,” Meera Shah, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in the New York City suburbs of Long Island, Westchester and Rockland, told BuzzFeed News Thursday. “Pregnancy-related care, especially abortion care, is essential and life-affirming, especially now when there is so much insecurity around jobs and food and paychecks.”
A Medical Perspective
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a pro-life physician and policy adviser for The Catholic Association, told the Register that the reasons that all nonessential surgeries and procedures are being postponed apply to abortion, as well.
“There’s only so much protective equipment that exists, and people are trying to provide it quicker and manufacture it faster and get it out to affected areas,” she explained, noting that her cousin who’s a second-year resident in a New York emergency room had to use the same mask for four days until she was able to send him more masks. “That’s happening across the country.”
Another reason to postpone abortions is that, in these facilities, “there’s a thousand ways that you can pass on infection, so those are exactly the places that should be closed.”
“From a medical perspective,” Christie said, “there is no such thing as a medically necessary or essential abortion … it’s always a choice; it’s always elective.” She said that for situations like an ectopic pregnancy or an emergency procedure for a woman later in pregnancy, those “would definitely take place in a hospital” and “would also not be covered under this kind of elective surgery ban; it would be done on an emergency basis, and it would also not be called an abortion.”
Christie cited a list of procedures that should be canceled or postponed, sent out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, indicating that orthopedic surgeries need to be delayed. She said that these procedures are for patients that “might be in severe pain for an arthritic hip or might be completely disabled and not be able to get around because they need a joint replacement. Those are being postponed indefinitely.”
“Americans in severe pain are being asked to wait because of the public good and to save a COVID-19 patient because we can’t use our supplies on nonessential surgeries,” she said. “Those patients are being asked to wait, but abortions of perfectly healthy babies on perfectly healthy, comfortable women — comfortable from the medical perspective — are being fast-tracked, and that’s a totally ideological position that has no relation to medicine.”
Abby Johnson, a pro-life advocate whose conversion from working in the abortion industry was recounted in the film Unplanned, told the Register that for the abortion facilities that refuse to close, it’s a question both of revenue and narrative. “Shutting down abortion procedures even for a month is going to significantly affect their revenue stream,” Johnson said, “and it ruins the narrative that abortion is essential, that women can’t live without abortion access.”
“I don’t think people understand the desire to continue abortion,” she added. “They will put people’s health and safety at risk in order to continue abortion procedures — that’s not a problem for them.”
Push for Chemical Abortions
Pro-life leaders, including Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, Associate Director Greg Schleppenbach of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, and March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, sent a letter Monday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking that the administration oppose promotion of abortion amid this crisis.
The letter mentioned that “abortion activists are relentlessly insisting that dangerous chemical abortions be made more accessible, even going so far as to demand that FDA safeguards meant to protect women are temporarily suspended.”
Abortion groups like NARAL are citing the coronavirus crisis as justification for the lifting of existing FDA restrictions on chemical abortions, which are carried out by taking the drug combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, to allow them to be marketed via telemedicine without any direct oversight by medical personnel.
Current Food and Drug Administration rules stipulate that mifepristone “must be dispensed to patients only in certain health-care settings, specifically clinics, medical offices and hospitals, by or under the supervision of a certified prescriber,” in order “to mitigate the risk of serious complications” associated with use of that drug.
“While surgery centers postpone elective and diagnostic procedures, abortion centers are churning out surgical and chemical abortions and putting women, especially the poor, at risk,” the pro-life leaders wrote in their letter to Azar. “Their continued operation depletes sorely needed personal protective equipment and leads to complications that will further overwhelm already overextended emergency rooms. The abortion industry is compounding one crisis with another. Therefore, we urge public officials to use their broad emergency authority to safeguard against the extreme abortion agenda.”
Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.