The Slatest

Ohio Orders Halt to “Nonessential” Abortions in Preview of Battle That Could Go National

A women stands with her child in a stroller during an anti-abortion rights rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Center on June 4, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri.
A women stands with her child in a stroller during an anti-abortion rights rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Center on June 4, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Clinics that provide abortion services in Ohio suddenly find themselves thrust in the middle of an argument with state authorities about whether the procedure should be considered essential. It’s the first view of a battle that could quickly go national amid disagreements about what constitutes essential care at a time when authorities are calling on hospitals to suspend anything that is not crucial to focus all resources on combating the new coronavirus.

Ohio’s attorney general, Dave Yost, ordered several clinics to stop all “nonessential” surgical abortions, defined as any “that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.” The order applies to all clinics in the state.

The operator of one of the clinics that was targeted by Yost insisted it can fully comply with the order while continuing providing abortions. “Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to offer other health care services that our patients depend on. Our doors remain open for this care,” said a joint statement from Iris E. Harvey and Kersha Deibel, respectively presidents and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region.

Abortion-rights advocates make clear there is no such thing as a “non-essential” abortion and the order by Ohio’s attorney general only amounts to the latest in a long-running effort to restrict abortion in the state. In October 2019, a federal judge placed a temporary ban on a law that had been approved by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature that prohibited abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat was detected.

“People should not push ideological agendas that interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Period,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of the advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told the Washington Post. “But especially not right now, not during a pandemic.” The Ohio chapter of the ACLU also called on the state government not to “use this crisis as an excuse to target clinics & try to take away the ability of Ohioans to access abortion, which is time-sensitive, essential health care.”