You’d think a pandemic would be the one clear time we could all come together on the importance of having control over one’s own body. In Texas, that not so. The Lone Star State just used the COVID-19 crisis to block most abortions, and the whole thing is a Texas-sized mess of illogic and exploitation that seriously pushes the boundaries of belief.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered a ban on surgeries and medical procedures as a means of preserving medical resources during the coronavirus pandemic. The order directs “all surgeries and procedures that—as determined by a patient’s physician—are not immediately medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who without immediate receipt of such care would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death.” The order applies to all licensed health care practitioners and facilities in the state of Texas. Procedures that are excepted from the order are those that, if performed normally, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to respond to the pandemic.
All of that makes sense. Hospital beds, PPE, and lifesaving medical equipment are in short supply; now is not the time for people to be getting nose jobs or routine colonoscopies.
The Texas Medical Board (TMB) clarified that “elective, non-urgent cases” are cases where, “there is no anticipated short-term nor long-term negative impact because of delaying a procedure or surgery,” such as “screening for a chronic condition or most cosmetic procedures.”
By contrast, TMB defined “urgent or elective urgent” procedures as those where “there is a risk of patient deterioration or disease progression likely to occur if the procedure is not undertaken or is significantly delayed.” And of course, TMB points out that procedures should be performed if putting them off would likely result in any decline in a patient’s health “could make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and other issues.”
Again, all of that makes sense and sounds medically reasonable. Anything that can safely be delayed to post-global medical disaster should be. Frankly, it’s stupid that we need a governmental directive to know this is what should be done.
Things went haywire, though, when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an explanatory press release where he singled out abortion providers and declaring that any non-emergency abortions would violate the order. And he warned that “[t]hose who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law” threatened criminal penalties, and even up to 180 days of jail time.
Apparently, there is a lot about abortion which has left Paxton and other Texas officials confused. First, there’s the issue of logistics. Most abortions are performed in clinics – not in hospitals. Many are performed “medically” – meaning via the woman ingesting a medication. Such abortions have precious little to do with preserving hospital beds or ventilators. But then there’s the larger issue that I cannot even believe I need to spell out: a woman who is denied an abortion will eventually have a child. This means ongoing prenatal care, childbirth, postnatal care, and a newborn infant. Childbirth does usually happen in a hospital, does tax medical resources, and does require PPE. And that doesn’t even take into account whatever horrors await if birthing mothers are exposed to COVID-19 in the hospital. The suggestion that abortions will strain the healthcare system, but that unwanted pregnancies and new births will not, is patently absurd.
Planned Parenthood sued in federal court on behalf of a group of Texas reproductive health clinics on Wednesday seeking a court order to keep the state’s abortion clinics open. Nancy Northrup, head of one legal nonprofit joining the lawsuit, called Texas’s directive to halt most abortions “unconscionable.” Northrup said Paxton “is exploiting this pandemic to end abortion in the state.”
“The Texas Attorney General’s enforcement threats are a blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda, without any benefit to the state in terms of preventing or resolving shortages of PPE or hospital capacity,” the lawsuit said. “As a result of these threats, this week Plaintiffs have already been forced to turn away patients in need of time-sensitive care.”
“Abortion does not require extensive use of PPE,” the complaint continued. “Providing patients with pills for medication abortion does not require the use of any PPE.”
The plaintiffs then spelled out the pragmatic argument against Texas’s directive:
Not only will these patients be deprived of their constitutional right to essential healthcare and self-determination, but forcing them to continue their pregnancies will in fact impose far greater strains on an already-taxed healthcare system, as prenatal care and delivery involve much greater exhaustion of hospital health care services and PPE than abortions. All will be delayed in getting the abortion care they are seeking, with attendant risks to their health, wellbeing, and economic security.
[Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images.]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.