Multiple medical groups have criticized the decision, saying that abortions are a part of “comprehensive health care” and should not be canceled or delayed

By Julie Mazziotta
March 24, 2020 11:22 AM

Clinics in Texas and Ohio have been ordered to stop performing “non-essential” abortions during the new coronavirus outbreak — against the recommendations of health care professionals.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the decision on Friday, saying that it fell under the Ohio governor’s public health order to cancel any “non-essential elective surgeries or procedures” that require personal protective equipment like masks and gloves. And on Monday night, Texas’ attorney general did the same, ordering the cancellation of “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” CBS News reported. And any clinics found in violation are subject to “penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.”

Several other states, including Massachusetts and Washington, have explicitly said that abortions are not part of the restrictions against non-essential procedures, and multiple medical groups have said that abortions are a part of “comprehensive health care” and should not be canceled, The Washington Post reported.

The Ohio attorney general’s office sent letters directly to clinics in the state, including Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio in Cincinnati, Preterm in Cleveland and Women’s Med Center of Dayton, after receiving “a complaint” that they were still in operation.

“On behalf of the Department, you 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,” the order read. “…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.”

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Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio (PPSWO) said that they would continue performing surgical abortions, as they are considered necessary.

“PPSWO immediately responded to Ohio Attorney General Yost’s letter, assuring him that PPSWO was complying with Director Acton’s order,” the organization said in a statement, according to WOSU Public Media. “Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to offer other health care services that our patients depend on. Our doors remain open for this care.”

And Kellie Copeland, executive director of the advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, criticized Yost’s letter.

“People should not push ideological agendas that interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Period,” Copeland, told the Post. “But especially not right now, not during a pandemic.”

The Planned Parenthoods in Texas shared a joint statement with CBS News, saying they are reviewing the attorney general’s 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,” said Ken Lambrecht, Melaney A. Linton, and Jeffrey Hons, the three heads of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood South Texas.

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Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that had sent a letter of complaint to Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio prior to Yost’s order, applauded the Attorney General’s decision.

Ohio state democrats said that Yost, a republican, was pushing a political agenda during a global pandemic.

“It is inexcusable that our state’s attorney would play politics with a global pandemic,” said state Sen. Nicki Antonio in a statement, according to WOSU Public Media.

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In a joint statement, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, along with six other organizations, said that abortions are not non-essential, and cannot be canceled or delayed.

“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible,” they said. “The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”

Texas currently has 728 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Ohio has 444, as of Tuesday.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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