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Coronavirus in Texas

She says she needs an abortion. Texas is citing coronavirus to stop her.

Heather Artrip is one of hundreds of Texans whose plans regarding reproductive health have been cast into uncertainty in the wake of an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott barring any procedures that are not “immediately medically necessary.”

An ultrasound machine at women’s health clinic in Austin, Texas.

Heather Artrip, an out-of-work single mother of two sons, is facing down the prospect of a high-risk pregnancy in the middle of a pandemic.

The 30-year-old Austin woman lost her job as a server two weeks ago when city officials shuttered bars and restaurant dining rooms to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

She wants to look for a new job, but doctors have deemed her pregnancy high risk. “I have a grade two prolapse. My uterus could fall out,” Artrip said. “I'd have to be bedridden for the majority of my pregnancy.”

Artrip's plans to end the pregnancy were thrown into question when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared that abortions wouldn't be considered essential procedures as local officials and medical professionals race to manage an expected onslaught of COVID-19 patients.

The day before her scheduled procedure, Artrip's clinic called to cancel. She's just one of potentially hundreds of Texans whose reproductive health decisions have been cast into uncertainty as the ongoing battle between abortion providers and Texas' top officials plays out in the courts. Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas has already canceled 261 abortions, KUT reported last week.

“It is definitely a terrifying place to be, in this purgatory. It's very uncertain, and the roller coaster of emotions is extreme,” Artrip said.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order March 22 barring any procedures that are not “immediately medically necessary.” Paxton subsequently declared that the order applies to any abortions not considered critical to protect the life or health of the parent, prompting a lawsuit from a group of abortion providers.

On Monday, a federal court sided with those providers and temporarily blocked state officials' attempted abortion ban. But on Tuesday, an appeals court overturned that decision. For now, that means the state can still enforce the ban, pending additional litigation. Attorneys on both sides of the legal battle have been directed to submit arguments to the same appeals court for further review.

This has taken a toll on Artrip. She still intends to end the pregnancy, but now she isn’t sure where or when it will happen. “I became so desperate that I tried to induce my own miscarriage, which in hindsight is incredibly dangerous,” she said.

Abortion providers argue that Texas officials’ ban on the procedure reflects political opportunism and not genuine concern for conserving medical resources.

Just 3% of Texas abortions were provided at hospitals in 2017, according to the reproductive rights research organization the Guttmacher Institute. Abortions do not require extensive personal protective equipment because few health care workers are present for the procedure, providers said, and clinicians generally do not use the N95 masks that are needed to treat COVID-19 patients and have been in short supply nationwide.

“The Texas Attorney General’s enforcement threats are a blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda, without any benefit to the state in terms of preventing or resolving shortages of PPE or hospital capacity,” abortion providers argued in their lawsuit.

A number of other states, including Ohio, Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama and Oklahoma, have made similar moves to restrict abortion access during the escalating pandemic, though Texas’ order was among the strictest. Federal judges in Alabama and Ohio blocked those states' bans Monday.

The federal judge in Austin who temporarily blocked enforcement of the ban wrote that Paxton’s interpretation of the order “prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.”

Meanwhile, Artrip says she’s looking at options across state lines. She's been cold-calling abortion clinics in New Mexico and Arkansas.

“I am 100% pro-choice. I also would like to have a third child at some point,” she said. “Right now is not ideal considering we are experiencing a global crisis, a pandemic.”

Emma Platoff contributed reporting.

Disclosure: KUT and Planned Parenthood have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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