Texas Takes Advantage of the Coronavirus Epidemic to Impose More Restrictions on Abortion

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The attorneys general of Texas and Ohio are both attempting to curb abortion rights in their states amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Mikasi/Flickr/cc)

Just as the White House saw the opportunity in the coronavirus epidemic to close the nation’s borders, other conservative states have seen an ideal moment to implement longed-for policies.

Such is the case of Texas, one of the states most rapidly affected by the spread of COVID-19, with at least 995 reported cases and 12 deaths so far, according to updated reports from the Texas Tribune.

That is why Governor Greg Abbott declared a state emergency on March 13, anticipating a “public health disaster” that will require the maximum use of health resources. 

In that order of ideas, both Abbott and the State Attorney General Ken Paxton announced last Monday the list of medical procedures considered “non-essential” and that would have to be delayed due to the priority of the attention of cases related to COVID-19. Among those procedures, as expected, is abortion.

More specifically, Paxton clarified that the restriction included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” Violation of the governor’s mandate could result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time, according to the New York Times.

Warning of the risks involved, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a joint statement last week saying “abortion should not be categorized” as a non-essential procedure.

“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,” the statement said. “The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”

However, following the guidelines adopted by health authorities in Ohio last week, Texas has taken advantage of the circumstance to impose an absolute break on the right to abortion, a longtime initiative led by the Republican leadership.

“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,” a statement from Paxton’s office reads.

Mississippi followed suit, and Gov. Tate Reeves joined the campaign on Tuesday saying, “We’ll take whatever action we need to protect not only the lives of unborn children, but also the lives of anyone who may contract this particular virus.”

Organizations seeking to protect the right to abortion, for their part, have responded strongly.

“Instead of trying to distract with ideology, state lawmakers should focus on prioritizing public health and safety measures,” said Tara Pohlmeyer, communications manager at Progress Texas, a group that supports abortion rights.

For its part, the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas told the Washington Post: “Having the antiabortion politicians in Texas go against what experts say is pretty irresponsible. They have been trying to ban abortions for the past 10 years, and they do it under the guise of health and safety but ignore experts and doctor recommendations. This is no different.”