U.S. states accused of using coronavirus to close abortion clinics

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 30 March 2020 23:26 GMT

Several Midwestern and Southern states have included abortion clinics in their lists of facilities to be closed to fight the spread of the virus

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By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Closing U.S. abortion clinics as non-essential is a political effort to exploit the pandemic to limit reproductive rights, supporters said on Monday after filing legal action against states that ordered clinics to shut down.

Several Midwestern and Southern states that already have strict abortion laws have included the clinics in their lists of elective facilities to be closed to preserve resources and protective equipment to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

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Clinics in Ohio, Iowa, Alabama and Oklahoma responded with litigation accusing officials of using the orders on non-essential procedures to limit abortion access.

"Banning abortion doesn't slow the transmission of the virus, it just forces people to stay pregnant - and have children - against their will," said Jennifer Dalven, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, a leading rights group representing abortion providers.

In Ohio, the lawyers argued before a federal court judge that closing clinics would violate the right to abortion guaranteed by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order allowing the clinics to remain open for now.

Noting that the closings were taking place in states with strict laws limiting abortion access, Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called them "sham justifications to shut down clinics and make an end run around Roe v. Wade."

"These same states have tried to ban abortion access for years - no one should be fooled that this is warranted by the current crisis," she said.

But abortion opponents welcomed the closing of clinics.

"Abortion clinics conducting business as usual in the presence of a life-threatening disease show just how callous pro-abortion groups and abortionists are to protecting life at any stage," Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life, said in a recent statement.

Clinics also sued last week in the state of Texas, where officials said abortions were medically unnecessary except for those needed to save the mother's life or health.

On Monday, a judge in Texas also issued a temporary restraining order to allow clinics there to remain.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the nation's coronavirus task force, urged Americans on March 18 to put off elective surgery to allow hospitals to concentrate on the rising influx of patients with COVID-19.

Abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in U.S. society, with the Supreme Court due to rule in June on a major case which challenges a Louisiana law that could make it harder for women to obtain the procedure.

Abortions in the United States are usually performed in outpatient settings or at home using drugs to end pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, additional reporting by Andrew Chung. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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