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COVID-19 Is Pausing Elective Medical Procedures. In Some Places, That Means Abortion


The coronavirus pandemic has hospitals and doctors scrambling to find enough medical supplies, like masks and hospital gowns. Some states are ordering a stop to nonessential medical procedures to help preserve those supplies. But what are nonessential procedures? There's a debate now over whether abortion should fall into that category. NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon is following this and joins us now.

Hi, Sarah.


SHAPIRO: Abortion has always been a politically charged issue in normal times. How is this coronavirus virus pandemic amplifying the debate?

MCCAMMON: Well, some anti-abortion rights advocates and activists are calling for abortion to be considered an elective procedure and to be banned by states during this outbreak in an effort to conserve medical supplies. In a letter today to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, a few dozen anti-abortion rights groups, including Susan B. Anthony List, the Family Research Council and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, among others, are asking HHS Secretary Alex Azar to urge abortion providers to, quote, "cease operations during the coronavirus outbreak."

I spoke to Mallory Quigley, who's with one of those groups, the Susan B. Anthony List.

MALLORY QUIGLEY: Abortion is never - it's never necessary. You know, there are other alternatives, and we want to see state health officials and governments be promoting alternatives during this time.

MCCAMMON: And Quigley argues that women who would be required to continue pregnancies rather than having an abortion would likely give birth in several months, freeing up supplies right now.

SHAPIRO: So that letter went to federal officials. What's happening at the state level?

MCCAMMON: More than a dozen states have ordered elective procedures to be stopped for now, and this is true in both states that are led by Republicans and Democrats. Some have not clarified how or if that applies to abortion. Others, like New Jersey and Massachusetts, have explicitly said this does not apply to abortion. And then Republican officials in at least two states so far, Ohio and Texas, have ordered abortion providers to stop performing the procedure during the pandemic.

SHAPIRO: And so what are abortion providers in those states doing?

MCCAMMON: Well, in Ohio, Planned Parenthood officials are essentially saying they disagree with the state attorney general interpretation of their governor, Mike DeWine's order to stop elective procedures. They say abortion is an essential health service. They believe continuing to perform the procedure does comply with that order. But they're scaling back other services, as they can.

In Texas, Planned Parenthood says they're reviewing an order from Governor Greg Abbott and also making an effort to conserve supplies there. And they accuse abortion rights opponents of politicizing this pandemic. Here's Jacqueline Ayers with Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

JACQUELINE AYERS: Abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure, and we know that medical experts have made this clear, and we should not be delaying or creating additional barriers for people to get access to the health care that they need, including abortion access.

MCCAMMON: And that's in line with what some major medical groups, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, are saying, that abortion is essential and time-sensitive. So far, we're not hearing of any legal action, but we will be watching this as this continues.

SHAPIRO: NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon, thank you very much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF UYAMA HIROTO'S "81 AUTUMN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.