Though we are all familiar with the long-perpetuated excuse for inactivity in times of tragedy, pro-life politicians have decided to subvert expectations by exploiting the coronavirus to push their own unrelated agenda.
As America’s overtly neoliberal healthcare system fails to adequately accommodate for the exponential number of coronavirus victims, a growing number of Republican officials are calling for a suspension of nonessential medical procedures — namely abortion — in their states during the pandemic. Last Tuesday, Ohio’s Department of Health outlined criteria for non-essential services, such as procedures that can be delayed without risking a patient’s life or long-term health, and without rapidly worsening a health condition. Other states have seemingly followed Ohio’s definition. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves promised to take action against the state’s lone abortion clinic and ordered all elective medical procedures to be postponed. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron specified in a statement that “abortion providers should join the thousands of other medical professionals across the state in ceasing elective procedures, unless the life of the mother is at risk.”
This is an extremely transparent attempt by Republican lawmakers to take advantage of the current crisis to put abortion out of reach for those who need it but not according to their warped standards. Pregnancy is inherently time-sensitive, and to assert that an abortion can be delayed is blatantly dishonest. The longer patients must wait for an abortion, the more likely they will need a more complex, invasive and expensive procedure. People who want abortions using medication as opposed to surgery must be provided one within the first 70 days of pregnancy. Additionally, since most abortion patients are low-income and may need to pay out of pocket for abortion care, the inability to obtain a first-trimester abortion may make the procedure entirely inaccessible. Furthermore, the longer the patient waits, the likelier they are to come against the legal time limit in their state. And thanks to abortion opponents, that legal time limit may be shorter than the 24-28 weeks Roe v. Wade stipulated.
As multiple healthcare groups noted in a joint statement, “Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care…The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”
We know that the closures of these clinics will do little to affect the actual number of abortions. We’ve known for years that more restrictive abortion laws have either no effect on or increase the number of abortions being performed, all while making the procedures unsafe. Even if people, as these lawmakers do, have ethical issues with abortions, these recent efforts to curtail accessibility will do nothing to aid their goal of lowering the number of or prohibiting abortions altogether.
What these closures will do, along with deny an essential and time-sensitive medical procedure to people living in these states now, is have a reverberating impact on abortion accessibility in the future. These state leaders know that once an abortion clinic closes, it becomes difficult for it to reopen. That’s why of the more than 40 abortion clinics open in Texas in 2013 before lawmakers approved tough new restrictions and rules for clinics, 18 closed and never returned even after the Supreme Court struck down those restrictions.
Republican lawmakers are desperately trying to distract their deeply ideological political scheme with a guise of a sudden prioritization of public health, which is fascinating to observe as these same lawmakers downplay the risks of the virus. President Trump notably minimized the danger of the virus just a couple of days ago, when he asserted that he wished to stop preventative measures such as social distancing as early as April 12. He has since extended that deadline to April 30. The seemingly impossible task for the majority of Republicans not even taking the most basic precautionary measures for the virus, while in tandem pretending to care about the health of their state, is once again achieved through blind and blatant hypocrisy. Abortions are an essential medical procedure that will occur whether the state sanctions it or not. To temporarily shut down these clinics will be the end for many of them. It is absolutely crucial for abortion to be labeled as an essential service so people can continue to have access to this procedure during and after this time of crisis.
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