Ohio Attorney General Faces Backlash For Barring Abortion Clinics From Providing Care During Coronavirus Outbreak

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is facing backlash after moving to bar clinics across the state from providing abortion care as part of an effort to suspend "non-essential" health services during the coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, a number of abortion clinics reportedly received a letter from the attorney general's office ordering them to "immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions," according to CBS.

"You and your facility are ordered to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions," the letter reportedly stated. "Non-essential surgical abortions," it said, "are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient."

It is unclear if all practicing clinics received the letter, with The Washington Post reporting that "several facilities" which the attorney general's office said it had received complaints about, had been ordered to stop "non-essential" abortion care.

The order appears to be pinned to a directive from the state's health department, which ordered the suspension of all "non-essential" medical procedures and surgeries on Wednesday in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has so far left three people dead in Ohio.

Reproductive rights groups, however, have condemned the order, branding it a brazen bid to "roll back access to abortion care."

"As our country grapples with how to address this public health emergency, anti-choice politicians in Ohio are brazenly exploiting a global pandemic to roll back access to abortion care," said the president of NARAL, a nonprofit which opposes abortion restrictions, Ilyse Hogue, in a statement shared with Newsweek.

"Even in a time of worldwide and national crisis, Governor Mike DeWine and Attorney General David Yost continue to manipulate and control women and families when they need access to care the most," Hogue said.

The decision to deem abortion care a "non-essential" service, Hogue warned, could have a detrimental impact on countless women in the state.

Abortion protest
Pro-abortion activists supporting legal access to abortion protest during a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., March 4, 2020. In Ohio, abortion has been deemed a 'non-essential' service under a new order barring non-essential services amid the coronavirus outbreak. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

"Pregnancy and abortion care are time-sensitive and cannot be significantly delayed without profound consequences on patient health and well-being," the NARAL president said. "Governors responding to the COVID-19 crisis in other states recognize this fact and have already acted to ensure abortion is classified as 'essential' healthcare."

Indeed, officials in Washington state and Massachusetts have already sought to clarify that orders barring non-essential services will not affect abortion care.

"Medical care shouldn't be determined by politicians pushing their own self-serving agenda," Hogue asserted, adding, "Peoples' needs must always come first, especially at a time like this. It's alarming to see the lengths they will go to in an effort to deny us our fundamental freedoms, and we refuse to stand by as they put dangerous ideology above the collective health and well-being of Ohioans."

Planned Parenthood has said that it is complying with the order by stopping "non-essential services," but, the organization told NPR that "under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion."

"Our health centers continue to offer other health care services that our patients depend on," the organization said.

Newsweek has contacted Yost's office for comment.

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