By Alya Abbassian
Alya Abbassian is a sophomore at Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
On March 23rd, the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, issued a directive banning “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” . Paxton followed the lead of the Ohio attorney general, who ordered state abortion clinics to halt surgical abortions. Ohio and Texas explained that this is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to ensure that the maximum number of hospital beds and personal protective equipment are available and not being used for “elective” and “nonessential” procedures . Paxton also stated that anyone in violation of this order would be met “with the full force of the law” with the possibility of potential criminal prosecution and jail time .
Despite the common goal of the United States to do all things possible to help during the current crisis, these decisions have come under much criticism. Many pro-choice organizations have accused these states of trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to advance their political agenda of ending abortion, especially because these states have a history of trying to restrict a woman’s right to choose . Last summer, Ohio attempted to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnacy, which was declared unconsitutional by a federal judge, and in 2016, Texas tried to pass a law that would close half of the state’s abortion clincics, which was also struck down in the Supreme Court .
Opposing organizations are rallying against these laws, stating that abortions require minimal resources and are not “nonessential,” but “an essential component of comprenhensive health care,” as put by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists . Furthermore, an abortion is not a postponeable procedure, as the patient’s risk increases with time and they will eventually lose their window to have one performed all together . These protestors see the restrictions as stripping a woman of her ability to choose on a matter fundamental to the rest of her life.
Although clinics have been able to stay open in Ohio, the order in Texas has interfered with many, including Whole Woman’s Health, who were forced to cancel more than one-hundred and fifty appointments at three locations on Monday alone . In response, Whole Women’s Health sued the state federal court, showing that these pro-choice organizations will not go down without a fight. The clinics described their patients to have been crying and begging for the procedure, which they found heart-breaking to listen to . Furthermore, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and the Lawyer Project joined together to file an emergency federal civil rights suit on behalf of Texas abortion providers, arguing that Paxton’s decision was simply unconstitutional, even during a pandemic .
Although suggestions have been made to provide abortion pills to patients by mail to reduce the rate of infection and keep hospital beds free, other restrictions in Texas require the doctor to be present when taking the abortion pill . Thus, the concern at this time is that there is no alternative solution for the procedure that many women around the nation may need during a time of a pandemic or not. Additionally, many fear other states will follow suit, with the Mississippi governor having already threatened the state’s only clinic if it were to continue abortions . On top of that, pro-life groups are rallying in defense of these decisions as seen with the letter sent to the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services advocating for the ban of abortions .
The coronavirus related push to ban abortions is a recent development, but the anxiety of women in the United States has been growing for years. Pro-choice groups are doing everything in their power to repeal these directives out of fear the coronavirus pandemic will give pro-life governments the opportunity to ban abortions for good. Courts must take action in a fragile time to decide the fate of abortion rights before more states take potentially unconstitutional action.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.
Photo Credit: NYTimes