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Coronavirus In Ohio: Abortion Clinics Push Back Against Attorney General Order

Abortion supporters gather outside the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday to rally against the anti-abortion laws in the state.
Sam Aberle
Ohio Public Radio
Abortion supporters gather outside the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday to rally against the anti-abortion laws in the state.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is ordering abortion clinics to stop all non-essential surgical procedures, prompting criticism from abortion rights groups.

Last week, Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton issued a public health order to cancel all "non-essential or elective surgeries or procedures" that utilize personal protective equipment, to save the supplies for battling the coronavirus outbreak.

Soon after, the Attorney General's Office sent letters to Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio (PPSWO) and the Women’s Med Center of Dayton, telling them to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions.

"Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient," wrote Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson in a letter.

The move was praised by Ohio Right To Life, an anti-abortion group.

But organizations that support legal abortion say the move is politically motivated and that their services are essential and time-sensitive.

"PPSWO immediately responded to Ohio Attorney General Yost’s letter, assuring him that PPSWO was complying with Director Acton’s order," the organization wrote in a statement. "Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to offer other health care services that our patients depend on. Our doors remain open for this care."

Ohio Democratic leaders also criticized Yost's order.

"It is inexcusable that our state's attorney would play politics with a global pandemic," said state Sen. Nicki Antonio in a statement.

When asked whether abortion clinics are affected under his order issued a few days ago to stop non-essential surgeries, Gov Mike DeWine responded, “I would refer people to look at that order. I’m going to let it go at that."

DeWine’s order said hospitals can continue to perform surgeries that preserve life and limb, relieve deterioration of a patient’s health or prevent severe symptoms. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical groups put out a statement saying that abortion procedures should be considered essential, and should not be canceled or delayed as part of a coronavirus response.

"Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care," the statement read. "It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being."

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634. More information is available at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.