Abortion is Essential, Not Elective: How Republican Politicians are Using COVID-19 to Restrict Reproductive Health

In Ohio, Texas, Louisiana and now Mississippi, anti-choice politicians are using the crisis of COVID-19 to unilaterally ban abortion, with state emergency declarations establishing “essential” services.

Anti-choice politicians often use moments of crisis to forward their political agendas, but this attack on reproductive freedom far exceeds anything we’ve ever seen. 

(Lorie Shaull / Flickr)

These state leaders are falsely claiming that abortion is an elective, nonessential procedure—like a facelift or Lasik surgery. Even more horrifying is that enforcement of the order in both Texas and Ohio includes a punishment with up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Using a global pandemic as an opportunity, these regressive law-makers are pushing anti-choice policies on a pro-choice nation.

Let me clarify this misinformation: Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care.

It is not an elective procedure; abortion is urgent by nature. Weeks or even days have a great impact on whether a person is ultimately able to receive an abortion or not. Thirty years of investment by anti-choice politicians have already created complex barriers to access through state regulation. Making people wait indefinitely is an obvious attempt to force people to stay pregnant.

Ohio, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are already hostile toward reproductive freedom—with hundreds of restrictions enacted in state law over two decades. Ohio has eight clinics for 88 counties; Texas has 19 clinics for 254 counties; there were four clinics in Louisiana in 2017, and 94 percent of Louisiana counties had no clinics that provided abortions; and Mississippi has JUST ONE clinic for 82 counties.

To make it worse, in 2019, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine—the first to close clinics during this crisis—signed an unconstitutional six-week abortion ban, which was blocked by a federal judge for the time being. This case is headed to the Supreme Court, and it has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

It’s insidious for anti-choice lawmakers to politicize this time of crisis to restrict abortion and necessary reproductive services, especially while the public is busy worrying about employment, staying healthy and keeping our families safe. They are clearly expecting that we’re too distracted to notice the attack on our freedom.

Make no mistake, we see what is happening. A vast majority of this country—nearly 80 percent—support reproductive freedom, and we cannot let this health emergency serve as a political loophole. 

Sixty-three percent of Americans favor laws that allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. And 86 percent support laws enabling abortion if it protects the life or health of a woman. (PBS)

This sets a dangerous precedent for other states to follow. We must remain free to make choices for our own bodies and families—whether we seek abortion due to a non-viable pregnancy, a result of increased domestic violence in quarantines or widespread economic vulnerability—abortion care is fundamental to bodily autonomy and the wellbeing of society.

Every day that passes, we need more access to comprehensive reproductive health care services like birth control, emergency contraceptives, prenatal care and abortion care. 

#VOTEPROCHOICE is calling for the immediate reversal of these states’ decisions. In addition, we are urging the pro-choice majority to call their governors’ offices and use #EssentialNotElective on social media to express how this decision is an attack on freedom. 

We will not let this moment of global crisis destroy our right to health care—and when it’s time to cast a ballot for our local, county and statewide leaders, we will remember how we were served during this pivotal time. 

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Heidi Sieck is CEO and co-founder of #VOTEPROCHOICE, which identifies and supports pro-choice champions up and down the ballot and connects the nation's prochoice majority with prochoice candidates. You can follow her on Twitter @HeidiSpeaks.