Date: April 16th, 2020
During the COVID-19 crisis, I have heard so many different things around what is essential or non-essential. This categorization spans from which employees should still go to work, what businesses can remain open, which daily activities are important enough for you to leave your house, and even which medical procedures people are allowed to have. Most of this essential versus non-essential categorization is determined by the local government. Different types of medical procedures are being banned across the country, depending on where you live. Some of these procedures include dermatologic, ophthalmological, dental procedures, and orthopedic surgeries.
Perhaps most alarming—one of the medical procedures declared “non-essential,” in states including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas, is abortion. These states have defended their bans with the weak argument that that they need to conserve medical supplies (e.g., masks, gloves, and other protective gear) for other healthcare workers. However, abortion providers say these states are pushing their ideologies and using the pandemic as a pretense to restrict abortion. The reality is that very little medical equipment is being used to perform abortions, and the supplies that are being used do not even come close to take away from supplies needed to combat COVID-19.
But that still doesn’t get to the fact that abortion is essential health care—a fact leading medical experts have affirmed: “Women’s ability to determine whether and when they have a child has profound consequences for their self-determination and for the economic, social, and political equality of women as a group. Because access to safe abortion care is time-sensitive and vitally important, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other reproductive health professional organizations issued an unequivocal statement on March 18, 2020, that they do not support Covid-19 responses that cancel or delay abortion procedures.’”
People are reporting that they are putting themselves at further risk for COVID-19 because they have been forced to travel out-of-state to receive an abortion. One woman traveled from Houston to Colorado because that was the nearest place where she could get an appointment.
The fact that select groups of lawmakers are making ideologically-driven decisions to determine what is considered an essential medical procedure at a time like this is not okay. Decisions about health care and medical procedures, or what is essential should be driven by science and guided by the recommendations of doctors, such as ACOG.
Now, as always, people have a right to bodily autonomy. Abortion is not only health care. It’s essential health care. And it’s time sensitive.