In an effort to ensure health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak have proper access to personal protective equipment, or PPE, authorities at both the state and federal level are asking doctors and patients to forego “nonessential” operations.
Ohio’s Department of Health, however, appears to be extending that order to what is widely considered essential health care: abortion.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, sent letters dated Friday to three of the state’s abortion providers ordering them to stop providing surgical abortions effective immediately.
“[Y]ou and your facility are ordered to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions. Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient,” Yost wrote in the letters, which were obtained by HuffPost. They were addressed separately to the Women’s Med Center in Dayton, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio’s Cincinnati Surgery Center, and Preterm in Cleveland.
It remains unclear whether medication abortion is still allowed in Ohio, as “the pill” would not require PPE to complete but can require a physical exam.
Yost claimed he was enforcing an order from the Ohio Department of Health.
“If you or your facility do not immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical abortions in compliance with the attached order, the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures,” he warned the providers.
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, however, said in a statement that the Health Department’s order does not prohibit it from providing abortion care, including surgical abortion.
The department’s order, issued Tuesday, was a broad directive telling all the state’s health care providers to cancel all “non-essential surgeries and procedures” effective 5 p.m. Wednesday. It did not mention abortion or outline any specific procedures that were considered nonessential.
To decide the necessity of any given procedure, the order gave four example criteria: “Threat to the patient’s life if surgery or procedure is not performed;” “threat of permanent dysfunction of an extremity or organ system;” “risk of metastasis or progression of staging;” and “risk of rapidly worsening to severe symptoms.”
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland emphasized Saturday how limiting abortion access during a pandemic was “reckless,” as women could be forced to go out-of-state at a time when travel is actively discouraged.
“People decide to end their pregnancies for a complex constellation of reasons that include the impact of pregnancy and birth on their health, ability to work, and strained economic circumstances. These are conditions that do not go away ― and are likely heightened — in pandemic conditions,” Copeland said in a statement.
She continued: “Denying or delaying abortion care places an immediate burden on patients, their families, and the health system, and can have profound and lasting consequences.”
Reproductive rights groups have warned that the rapidly growing coronavirus outbreak could cripple abortion services, particularly in states where abortion is already hard to secure. Some concerns have revolved around preventing doctors from contracting the virus, which would prohibit them from giving care for weeks on end.
Others have addressed how the issue of limited PPE is currently playing out in Ohio.
“We worry that all health care resources are being channeled to nonelective procedures, and abortion tends to be classified as an elective procedure,” Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, president of the National Abortion Federation, previously told HuffPost.
“We understand that abortion isn’t a stroke or a heart attack, and it can be scheduled out. But it can’t be scheduled out indefinitely.”