Ohio abortion clinics have been ordered to stop performing abortions because a Republican state official deems them to be "non-essential" medical treatment.
On Friday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent letters to two of the main abortion providers in the state, saying that they should immediately cease any non-essential procedures which require surgical equipment (such as masks), given the current shortage due to coronavirus.
According to CBS News, the letter said:
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.
It goes on to say that if they disobey these orders, "the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures".
The clinics will be allowed to stay open for other services, and medical abortions (which require patients to take pills to induce a miscarriage, rather than undergo surgical procedures), may still be allowed, although this remains unclear, as while they may not require masks they most likely use other "personal protective equipment" such as gloves. The order appears to apply to any procedure which requires such equipment.
The Ohio Department of Health issued the ruling, banning all "elective and non-essential" procedures in order to preserve resources for those fighting the coronavirus outbreak. However the assumption that abortions fall into this category appears to have come from the attorney general, and many in the field disagree.
In a joint statement, a group of organisations representing doctors working in reproductive health – including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – said:
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 consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person's life, health, and well-being.
Women in Ohio already face severe restrictions when seeking abortions. They are currently forced to undertake an ultrasound, during which they may be able to see the foetus or hear the heartbeat.
They must also attend a "counselling" session where doctors are mandated to give patients information which could discourage them from going through with the procedure. Women then have to wait 24 hours before having the abortion, which means they have to make two separate trips to a clinic – there are currently only nine operating abortion clinics in the state (two of which only provide the medical, rather than surgical, abortion), so the trip can be long and costly, especially for women living in rural areas.
Insurance for public employees and health plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act are banned from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. The average cost for a first-trimester abortion ranges between $350 and $950, while the median income in Ohio is $56,111, meaning the cost of an abortion can be more than a week's net salary for women earning a middle-ground income. A woman working full-time on minimum wage would earn around $1,500 a month.
This order comes following a persistent attack on women's right to abortions from Republican lawmakers since Trump entered office primising to overturn Roe v Wade.
Ohio was one of six states to pass a "heartbeat bill", which essentially bans abortion after around six weeks (which is often before a woman even knows she's pregnant). The law has currently been temporarily blocked but is expected to take effect in July.