Abortion & COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to peak in the United States, “flattening the curve” has become the new watchword of our society. We are looking for any way to limit physical contact between individuals, and closing down all but the “essential” services. Doctor’s offices and other healthcare facilities are cancelling some types of visits, rescheduling others, and scrambling to learn to use telemedicine for as many as possible.

The Surgeon General recommended that ‘elective’ surgeries be cancelled and postponed at least for several weeks, and many hospitals are doing this indefinitely. This step is important in preserving hospital resources (particularly hospital beds), and in reducing foot traffic in and out of the hospital to reduce the spread of the disease. But abortion is not “elective” (more discussion below!).

Abortion is essential healthcare, and is continuing amidst the chaos with the full support of the medical community, public health officials, and (most) politicians. Still, some are willing to use this pandemic as another excuse to close abortion clinics.

From the National Abortion Federation:

Abortion care is a time-sensitive service that cannot be significantly deferred without profound consequences for women and their families. Abortion is provided for almost one in five pregnancies in the United States, as part of the continuum of pregnancy care. It is an essential health service. An individual and family decide to end a pregnancy for a complex constellation of reasons that include the impact of pregnancy and birth on their health, ability to work, and strained economic circumstances. These are conditions that do not go away—and are likely heightened—in pandemic conditions. Denying or deferring abortion care places an immediate burden on patients, their families, and the health system, and can have profound and lasting consequences. Patients presenting for time-sensitive care, including abortion care, need timely access to treatment, even during this pandemic.

National Abortion Federation’s Statement on Abortion Provision during COVID-19 Pandemic

What ‘elective’ abortion really means

  • Why We Should Stop Using the Term “Elective Abortion”

    AMA Journal of Ethics | Katie Watson | December 1, 2018

    This article is a short, well-argued piece explaining all the different connotations of the word ‘elective’ when it comes to abortion, and why, at best, it is not accurate, and at worst, is insulting, stigmatizing, and harmful. For a brief overview, though: First, hospital surgeries are scheduled according to a three tier system: elective, urgent, or emergent. ‘Emergent’ means that it’s a true emergency, and the patient needs surgery within the next hour (think about a gunshot wound). ‘Urgent’ usually means that the surgery must be performed in the next 24 hours or else the patient is at risk of suffering serious harm (think appendicitis or a broken bone). A surgery is scheduled as ‘elective‘ if it is to be scheduled at the convenience of the patient and surgeon. Abortion is in a special category called “time-sensitive”–it need not be performed today or tomorrow, but even modest delays can cause risk of harm. Another example of time-sensitive surgery is oncologic procedures: if the surgery to remove your tumor or your chemotherapy were delayed even a few weeks or a month, that might seriously jeopardize your health. Abortion is time-sensitive, too: with each increasing week of gestation, the risk of mortality rises 38%. (That absolute risk is very low, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the increased risk from delaying. This is not even to mention the risk that delay might make the abortion inaccessible entirely, which causes other harms–see the link in the next paragraph!) Second, abortions are often categorized as ‘elective’ to distinguish them from more necessary procedures that are ‘therapeutic’ or ‘medically indicated.’ The consequences for a woman who is denied an abortion are real, and have been studied. But let Katie Watson tell you why ethically they are just as necessary as other kinds of care.

Ohio and Texas are using COVID as a reason to shut down abortion clinics

  • Ohio clinics ordered to halt abortions deemed ‘nonessential’ amid coronavirus response

    Washington Post | Hannah Knowles | March 21, 2020

  • Texas and Ohio Include Abortion as Medical Procedures That Must Be Delayed

    New York Times | Sabrina Tavernise | March 23, 2020

  • Abortion providers sue Texas governor over ban on procedure during coronavirus crisis

    thehill.com | Jessie Hellman | March 25, 2020

    Ohio’s Attorney General, David Yost, says that they received complaints about several abortion clinics (from Ohio Right to Life; see the NYTimes article above) because they are providing abortion care that is ‘nonessential.’ It is unclear at this point whether they will comply with the order, which takes effect Wednesday 3/25/2020. And Texas has, by executive order of their Attorney General Ken Paxton, banned abortion except if the woman’s life is in danger. While most Texas clinics have stopped providing abortions since this order went into effect, abortion providers in Texas filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, March 25, against Gov. Greg Abbott challenging this abortion ban. (Side note: it is impossible for a doctor to determine at what point exactly the Attorney General–in his learned medical opinion–considers a woman’s life to be in danger. How close to death does she need to be? Days? Hours? Minutes?)

If you are interested in more articles on Texas and Ohio’s bans during COVID-19 check these out:

For a comprehensive list of state abortion restrictions during COVID-19:

The medical community is not mincing words: Abortion is essential healthcare and should continue

  • Joint Statement on Elective Surgeries

    This is a joint statement from all the major ObGyn professional societies, saying essentially that abortion access is necessary, essential, and should not be considered elective surgery. The list of groups that have signed on include: American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL) American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) American Urogynecologic Society (AUS) Society of Family Planning (SFP) Society of Gynecologic Surgeons (SGS) Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO)

What providers have to say:

All together now: abortion is ESSENTIAL!

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