Officials from anti-abortion organizations asked the Trump administration on Tuesday to take steps to halt abortion access as part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Anti-abortion groups, led by Trump ally and Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, wrote in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar that clinics continuing to provide abortion care during the COVID-19 outbreak are “compounding one crisis with another.”
The letter claimed that abortion providers will divert much-needed personal protective equipment from the COVID-19 response, and that potential complications from abortion care will increase demand on emergency rooms — a suggestion that falsely depicts abortion as risky. (Experts agree that the complication rate for legal abortion care is very low.)
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Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the COVID-19 crisis is “not the time for politicians or groups to advance their own agenda by taking advantage of a worldwide pandemic.”
“Delays or additional barriers to care can make it more difficult or even impossible for some patients to access safe, legal abortion,” McGill Johnson said. “While we continue to provide critical care during this pandemic and work with our partner health care providers, we must still ensure that patients can access the services they need.”
The letter included a list of suggestions for how the Trump administration could use the COVID-19 outbreak to cut off access to abortion care, including making sure “telemedicine abortion is not expanded during the crisis” and ensuring “emergency response funds are not diverted” to clinics that provide abortion care. Earlier this month, the administration stalled a COVID-19 funding bill because it didn’t contain anti-choice “Hyde language.”
As HHS secretary, Azar has proven hostile to reproductive health care, and anti-choice congressional lawmakers have praised Azar’s policies. Last April, he restructured HHS so the Title X family planning program would be under the direction of an anti-choice activist. HHS did not respond to a Rewire.News request for comment.
Jennie Wetter, director of public policy at the Population Institute, which promotes comprehensive family planning services, said abortion rights foes are capitalizing on emergency measures needed to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It is unacceptable that anti-choice groups are using a pandemic as a pretext for attacking the constitutional right to abortion,” Wetter told Rewire.News. “Abortion is basic health care and time sensitive health care. People who want an abortion need to be able to access it without delay. We will continue to fight to ensure that anyone who wants an abortion is able to access the care they need.”
Governors and other state officials have taken varying approaches to abortion services in emergency orders that delay “nonessential” or “elective” medical procedures in order to conserve resources for the expected wave of COVID-19 patients in the United States. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is the only governor so far to explicitly target abortion in his COVID-19 order — an Abbott spokesperson confirmed to the Associated Press that the state’s order against nonessential health services would include abortion in most cases.