Citing the need to preserve health care capacity for COVID-19 patients, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday that abortions should not be performed unless the mother's life is in danger.
The warning comes one day after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered health care facilities and professionals to postpone all procedures that are deemed “not medically necessary” as the state gears up for an influx of patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The attorney general said that the order, set to expire April 21, should also be interpreted to cover abortion clinics in the state.
“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law," a statement from Paxton's office reads.
Providers can be fined $1,000 or face jail time of up to 180 days if found in violation.
The state's clampdown on abortion clinics in the name of protecting medical resources for the coronavirus follows only one other state so far. Late last week, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent letters to abortion clinics demanding they cease operations and instead send medical supplies to health care workers fighting the coronavirus.
Ohio abortion clinics pushed back. Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region said in a statement that it would follow the state's order on personal protective equipment but continue some procedures.
"Planned Parenthood's top priority is ensuring that every person can continue accessing essential health care, including abortion," its statement reads. "Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to provide services that our patients depend on."
According to Abbott's order, certain procedures are exempt if they do not take up hospital capacity or personal protective equipment that could be used in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. It is unclear how Texas abortion clinics will respond; Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas did not immediately return requests for comment.
Advocacy group Texas Freedom Network released a statement condemning the attorney general's actions. Reproductive health care is essential, president Kathy Miller said.
"There are many reasons women decide to have an abortion in the already limited time window state law allows, and a delay means denying them the constitutional right to make those decisions in a safe, timely manner with the help of their doctors," Miller said in the statement.
Texas anti-abortion groups immediately voiced their approval of the shutdown. John Seago, the legislative director for prominent anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, said the abortion industry needs to focus on supporting essential health care providers at a critical time for the state.
“Continuing elective procedures is a public health threat,” Seago said. Otherwise, he added, abortion clinics would “violate the solidarity of the medical community right now.”
Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said abortions rarely happen in hospitals, meaning hospital capacity would not increase by much if clinics shut down. But clinics could run afoul of the new orders with the mandatory donation of personal protective equipment.
There are obvious medical reasons to devoting all health care energies to fighting COVID-19, Jones said. But there is also an element of convenience for Texas politicians who have devoted much time to fighting pro-abortion groups, he said. Paxton, in particular, has long tried to restrict abortion access in the state.
“I think that this is more the cherry on top of the sundae for pro-life politicians,” Jones said.