On Monday, March 23, Texas officials temporarily banned all abortions (except rare cases in which the woman’s life or health is in danger). Attorney General Ken Paxton explained that the ban was included in an emergency order issued the day before by Governor Abbott that prohibits procedures that are not “immediately medically necessary” in order to save medical supplies needed by coronavirus patients and their healthcare providers.
The following Monday, March 30, a federal judge blocked enforcement of the abortion ban on grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
On Tuesday, March 31, a Texas appeals court paused the block on the ban, effectively making abortions in Texas illegal once again.
As of Wednesday, April 15, medical abortions and surgical abortions for women at risk of passing the 20-week threshold are permitted, but this status is only a snapshot in time of a fiery battle between state and federal judges with hundreds of unwantedly pregnant women trapped in the middle.
It is one thing to take a scientifically, ethically, or religiously grounded stance against abortion, but it is quite another to take irreparable sweeping legal action with complete disregard for what an abortion is and what the procedure entails. National emergencies often see the curtailment of liberties and rights, but it is up to us — the public — to stay informed and know which curtailments are necessary, and which only serve to further a political agenda.
Texas officials are arguing that “elective” abortions are neither time-sensitive nor essential services and should be put on hold. They maintain that, except in rare cases where the woman’s health is in imminent danger, “elective” abortions will drain the medical supplies, workers, and hospital bedspaces so desperately needed by COVID-19 patients.
Let’s get some facts straight. All abortions, other than those rare cases previously mentioned, are “elective” because a woman has to choose to undergo the procedure. Just because abortion activists are nicknamed pro-choice does not mean that abortion is a choice of the same caliber as a dentist visit or even an orthopedic surgery. (Pro-choice stems from the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that gives women the freedom to control their own bodies, under the right to privacy.) Most women who choose to end their pregnancies do so because they know they cannot take on the financial burdens and emotional responsibilities of raising a child at that point in time. Given the current economic downturn and the lasting repercussions it will have for years to come, it is even more essential and, indeed, constitutional that women have the opportunity and appropriate resources to make a choice about what is best for themselves given their individual circumstances.
Moreover, Texas officials’ categorization of abortions as non-time sensitive is inconsistent with medical facts and hides glaring public health disadvantages of banning or postponing these procedures.
The longer a woman waits for an abortion, the more she puts her own health at risk. After a certain amount of time, the procedure becomes illegal. In Texas, that deadline is 20 weeks into a pregnancy, earlier than the vast majority of other states. And even if it is within the legal time frame, some providers can refuse to perform the procedure after as few as 12 weeks. However, this short window of time is not the only barrier. Long waiting periods, mandatory counseling, high costs, and a shortage of providers can present additional obstacles to abortion access and are only exacerbated during the current pandemic.
And still, one in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion by the time they’re 45 years old.
There are two methods of abortion. One, an abortion pill (which actually consists of two pills), induces a miscarriage by stopping the progress of the pregnancy and compelling the body to shed the uterus lining. The pill requires neither a medical procedure nor equipment, and does not have to be administered in a hospital. The entire process takes 24 hours at most, but is only effective up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy.
The other method is an in-clinic (also known as surgical) abortion. There are two versions of this method, both of which use a combination of suction and medical tools to terminate the pregnancy. Although in-clinic abortions must be performed at a health center, they usually last between 5 and 10 minutes and the full visit to the clinic is only a couple of hours.
Surgical abortions now require personal protective equiptment such as masks, gloves, and gowns due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the patient only occupies a bed for a couple of hours, and that bed is most often in an outpatient facility that specializes in reproductive health and would not be available for COVID-19 patients in any case. An in-clinic abortion does put the patient and her healthcare team at risk of exposure to the coronavirus, but if the woman were to instead carry her pregancy to term, prenatal care — which requires multiple doctor’s visits — would greatly increase the risk of exposure to herself, her prenatal team, and her newborn, as well as put a greater demand on hospitals and physicians.
It benefits no one to keep women with unwanted pregnancies waiting for necessary care until Governor Abbott lifts his emergency order or to subject those women to the emotional turmoil and anxiety of a legal battle in which their futures are at stake. First, the longer a woman waits, the more likely she will be to require a surgical abortion. Although the abortion pill is legal at the moment, there are still hundreds of women trapped between the window of time for a medicated abortion and the 20-week limit. Second, though abortions are now permitted for women about to pass this limit, this legal status is subject to change and, as previously mentioned, the farther along a woman is in her pregnancy, the greater risk an abortion poses to her life and health. Third, if a woman can’t get an abortion in Texas, dire need might compel her to travel to another state to do so, which only increases the likelihood of spreading COVID-19.
A course of action that would decrease both women’s health risks and the spread of COVID-19 would be for Governor Abbott to reduce barriers to abortion access and authorize the use of telemedicine, which omits human contact and reduces the use of physical resources. Because the majority of abortions occur in the timeframe allowable for the abortion pill, tele-abortions would close large gaps in abortion access and reduce the need for clinic visits. Often, a doctor can determine whether a woman qualifies for a medicated abortion based on the date of her last period, not an ultrasound.
TelAbortion, a project that, since 2016, has conducted consultations and medicated abortions entirely by videochat and mail, would be an ideal solution for Texas’ current abortion predicament. TelAbortion is already active in 13 states, and a majority of states already permit telehealth services.
If a woman chooses to have an abortion, it is an essential and time-sensitive procedure that does not hamper the state’s abillity to attend to coronavirus patients in the least. Officials in Texas, as well as Oklahoma, Iowa, and Mississippi, are using factually incorrect and constitutionally illegal arguments to further a political agenda that will actually result in an increased risk to public health in more ways than one. It is possible that, with easier access to contraceptives and comprehensive sexual education in public schools, Texas wouldn’t have so many women in need of abortions in the first place.
Categories: Domestic Affairs