Almost immediately following the US Supreme Court Roe v Wade (1973) ruling to provide legal access to safe abortions, the rights of women have been challenged in the states. Legal cases have been filed to eliminate or restrict access to abortion and some have been successful. From January 1, 2011 to July 1, 2019 483 new restrictions were made, in various states, limiting access to abortion. These comprise 40% of the restrictions on abortions made since the Roe v Wade decision.
Texas has been at the forefront of these mandates making abortion costs largely ineligible for private or public insurance, and for public employees, except when the mother’s life is in danger or there are severe health risks at stake. They also have subjected clinics to strict requirements regarding staffing, equipment, and physical plants though the attempt to require doctors to have local hospital privileges was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. Nevertheless, the availability of clinics was reduced with 96% of Texas counties, representing 43% of Texas women, living in those counties. The state also requires counseling, which is usually negative, and requires a 24 hour waiting period. Texas also requires parental consent for minors, a requirement often cited as an additional stressor for the young women. In contrast, in March 2020 the fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Louisiana law to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The case will go to the Supreme Court where there is concern over the change in the judges sitting on the court from the earlier 2016 decision
With the advent of the corona virus several states have moved to ban abortions as non-essential procedures, including: Texas, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa. In Iowa the ruling was dropped since not all abortions were banned. Mississippi and Kentucky also have moved to restrict abortion access during the pandemic though they are not so far part of the legal cases to reverse the ban in the five states listed above. In early April injunctions allowing for clinics to remain open were made in Ohio, Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma. On April 7, 2020 the fifth Circuit court of Appeals upheld the Texas restrictions on abortions during the coronavirus pandemic stating: “An emergency measure that postpones certain non-essential abortions during an epidemic— does not ‘beyond question’ violate the constitutional right to abortion.” Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights make the case that banning the abortions violates a woman’s Constitutional rights. The case is moving on to the US Supreme Court.
States moving to ban abortions as “nonessential” suggest that these procedures will drain personnel and resources from the efforts to treat Covid-19 patients, but there is wide consensus that such actions will actually impede public health and lead to more virus spread. If women delay the time of specific abortions it may result in a different procedure, at a later stage of pregnancy, which can lead to more complications and require more medical intervention after the procedure. This would siphon more resources in personnel, equipment, and hospital space from the emergency medical interventions required to treat sufferers of the virus. Denial of the right to a safe and legal abortion also promotes a return to the pre-legalization “Home” remedies and back alley abortions which can result in significant health risks of infection, hemorrhaging, and death. These unsafe procedures would, without a doubt, ultimately tax the health systems. They also pose a disproportionate threat to low income women and women of color who have fewer resources to pursue a legal abortion once they are limited. Finally, it is shameful to politicize the issue of abortion, a right to choose, which was fought for and accomplished through legal avenues. The battle against the current state lawsuits drains money, time, and resources from more pressing issues.