In defending their moves, Texas and Ohio said that delaying or canceling abortion procedures is necessary to conserve personal protective equipment for health-care workers and to free up space in hospitals. Texas has prohibited “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”
It is true that to safely counter the spread of coronavirus, facilities will need protective equipment for health-care workers. Across the country, elective surgeries and nonessential medical procedures are reasonably being delayed. But abortion does not reasonably fit into those categories. Abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure. A delay of 30 days could change an abortion from a safe outpatient procedure to a more costly and risky procedure. If the objective is freeing up medical resources for covid-19 patients in need of care, we have to consider what happens when legal, safe abortions are not available.
Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, women found ways to obtain abortions; they were unsafe, and many who attempted such procedures were admitted to hospitals with infections and hemorrhages. If the goal is to maximize availability of medical services for people with severe covid-19 infections, then we should match our actions to our goals. Halting safe abortion services is likely to lead to increased use of limited inpatient medical services as women turn to unsafe options.
Covid-19 should not be co-opted for a political agenda to limit women’s reproductive rights. It is no coincidence that abortions have been halted in Ohio and Texas, states that have sought to make the cutoff point in gestation at which abortions can be legally provided earlier and earlier, as well as attempting to limit abortion access through targeted restrictions on providers. Unlike attempts to legislate restrictions, however, these recent curtailments were announced without opportunity for debate.
Let’s be clear: Decrees that restrict abortions in the name of public health measures are not actually about public health. Efforts to use the coronavirus threat and public health measures to accomplish long-standing political goals are an affront to those who work in public health and to women everywhere.
There is no time to politicize the coronavirus. Instead of making medical care less accessible during a public health threat, we should be learning from the pandemic that reliable health care is necessary for the common good. We should be uniting to protect collective access to health care and improve our health systems in order to defeat coronavirus. Halting abortions during this outbreak will not help defeat the pandemic threat; instead, it is likely to make life more difficult for many after the outbreak subsides. Repercussions of abortion restrictions are not merely a matter of short-term delay but could last a lifetime.
While it is crucial that we focus on the capacity of our nation’s health-care system today, we must not lose sight of future concerns. Women in the United States who are denied abortions face the potential of lifelong negative economic implications — disproportionately affecting low-income women and women of color. Women need access to all essential, time-sensitive medical services during this pandemic.