On March 16, Governor Tom Wolf declared all “non-essential” businesses in Pennsylvania must close their doors indefinitely as a necessary response to the coronavirus pandemic, NBC 10 reported.
Later that week, on March 19, Wolf extended that policy to all “non-life sustaining businesses” for the foreseeable future, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Life-sustaining businesses include grocery stores, hospitals, gas stations and transit stations, the Inquirer reported.
There is one essential service that might not be the first thing to come to mind: abortion clinics.
Abortion clinics are essential and life-sustaining businesses which need to remain open amid the pandemic to help individuals that still require their medical services.
While Wolf originally banned elective surgeries and procedures, the Pennsylvania Department of Health did not mandate any changes or termination of services provided by Planned Parenthoods in the state, PennLive reported. This ban has since been lifted in Pennsylvania, according to Philly Voice.
Nevertheless, eight states around the nation have continued to outlaw abortion amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guardian reported. Of those, only Iowa has lifted its ban, allowing exclusively for “essential” abortion procedures, the Des Moines Register reported.
For example, on April 7, an appeals court in Texas gave its governor the jurisdiction to restrict abortion access to only women whose lives are in immediate danger if they go into delivery, CNN reported. This move could reverberate throughout other states, influencing other legislators to institute similar bans.
Additionally, Mississippi and Ohio have listed abortions as nonessential for the sake of preserving personal protective equipment during the pandemic, the Hill reported. Although it is crucial hospitals have enough medical supplies to take care of the burgeoning number of coronavirus patients, these abortion regulations have little to do with the virus.
But for women in these states who had planned on getting an abortion this month or perhaps in the upcoming months, their lives could come to a jarring halt — not just for the duration of the pandemic, but for the rest of their lives.
“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care,” wrote the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in a joint statement this March. “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.”
Both organizations do not support the cancellation or delay of abortion access amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as it could significantly affect an individual’s health and well-being.
The right to abortion access is as valid as the right to any other medical and life-sustaining procedure. Unlike a nose job or a breast augmentation, women do not have the luxury of choosing to have an abortion for cosmetic reasons.
Bari Dzomba, a health services administration and policy professor, said that this policy could be dangerous, particularly given its unsafe timelines.
“There’s a lot of gaps in this policy because we don’t know how long this quarantine will continue,” Dzomba said. “By the time someone determines they’re pregnant and wants to terminate their pregnancy, they may have a little bit of time or a lot of time left, and it’s safer earlier in the pregnancy. If somebody is past a certain date, time is running out, so having this one size fits all policy around this doesn’t make sense to me.”
Abortions are time-sensitive procedures — a woman carrying a child in need of abortion cannot simply wait for the virus to run its course. For some women whose lives are on the line and may not survive if they go into labor, abortion is quite literally “life-sustaining.”
Anna Wright, a junior journalism major, said given the economic recession we are facing, this is the most inopportune time for women to have a child, especially those who have lost their jobs and are facing unforeseen financial hardships due to the pandemic.
“I don’t have health insurance and even before losing my job due to the pandemic, I couldn’t easily afford an abortion,” Wright said. “Thus I certainly can’t afford being pregnant and carrying a fetus to term. If I were to become pregnant right now, I would opt to abort the pregnancy because of how uncertain the future is right now.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to limit women’s access to truly essential services and put their lives at risk. Unwanted pregnancies can result in the death of the mother or the child, increasing the maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States.
This is a reckless attempt to control women’s bodies that could have deadly consequences and does nothing to advance public health.
“The people that are making these decisions are probably the same people who are making decisions when to reopen businesses, but they are not trained in public health,” Dzomba said. “It’s dangerous when somebody is pushing an agenda rather than prioritizing the health of their constituents. People are putting personal and religious agendas above the health of their stakeholders.”
Some states have assured their residents access to abortion clinics will not be cut off, in spite of the pandemic. Following the shutdown notice, governors in Washington and Massachusetts released statements confirming abortions are in fact essential medical procedures and family planning services and procedures are an exception to bans on elective surgeries, according to Ms., a feminist magazine.
States that have restricted abortions in light of the pandemic should recognize they cannot be delayed and waiting a few months could be the difference between life and death.
“Abortion is healthcare and abortion is practical,” Wright said. “All health care is essential, whether you morally agree with it or not.”