Abortion remains an issue of significance across the country even as the coronavirus spreads. As the crisis unfolds, policymakers must ensure that life-affirming policies that protect innocent, unborn life remain an integral part of our nation’s response, both legislatively and administratively.
An initial draft of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which President Donald Trump recently signed into law, did not contain language applying Hyde Amendment protections to new funding.
Congress and the White House worked to ensure that the final version of the bill maintained this important protection, which generally prohibits federal funding from providing for elective abortions.
Policymakers must remain vigilant and ensure that future legislative proposals don’t open new doors to paying for elective abortions with federal tax dollars.
Here is a roundup of other recent key pro-life concerns and developments.
Ohio Declares Abortion a ‘Nonessential’ Service
In Ohio, state officials last week ordered health care providers to cancel “nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures” as part of the statewide effort to conserve personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front line of the COVID-19 fight.
Personal protective equipment, in short supply at hospitals across the country, is a critical component to ensuring that doctors, nurses, and other staff are able to serve patients while preserving their own health and safety.
According to the order, an essential procedure is one that must be carried out due to a “threat to the patient’s life,” “threat of permanent dysfunction,” or “risk of rapidly worsening to severe symptoms.”
The Washington Post reported that Ohio abortion clinics claim that they are in compliance with the state’s order because abortion is an “essential,” time-sensitive procedure and that a delay or inability to obtain one can “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”
In the wake of complaints that abortion facilities continued flouting the order, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent a letter Saturday admonishing clinics for continuing to perform nonessential and elective surgical procedures.
Yost reemphasized the need to “preserve PPE [personal protective equipment] for health care providers who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic … and also to preserve critical hospital capacity and resources.”
It remains to be seen whether Ohio abortion clinics will comply with the order to cease nonessential procedures and save personal protective equipment for health care providers working on the front line to save lives as the coronavirus ravages the state.
On Monday, Texas joined Ohio in warning abortion providers to cease performing medically unnecessary abortion procedures.
In a formal statement, Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said:
We must work together as Texans to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our health care professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time. No one is exempt from [Gov. Greg Abbott’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.
2 States Declare Abortion ‘Essential’
In contrast to Ohio’s action, authorities in Washington state and Massachusetts have declared that elective abortion will remain an essential service.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has indicated support for such policies. However, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement pushing back, noting that the other organization isn’t even representing its own membership, “since more than 85% of OB/GYNs do not perform abortions.”
The pro-life group’s statement continued:
If abortion was an ‘essential component’ of women’s health care, it would be a part of most, if not all, of our practices. Services that are, in fact, part of essential care for women, such as cervical cancer screening, screening mammograms, and screening pelvic exams, are being postponed across this country as many offices reschedule non-urgent appointments in order to reduce their patients’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 and to conserve scarce medical resources.
According to the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs, performing elective abortions during a pandemic is “medically irresponsible.”
In addition to using up desperately needed personal protective equipment, abortion procedures come with the risk of their own complications that would require hospital evaluation, including uterine perforation and hemorrhage. As emergency rooms and hospitals try to keep up with COVID-19 patients, capacity and resources already will be stretched thin.
Loosening Safety Standards for Chemical Abortions
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has loosened some regulations that apply to telemedicine, restrictions on accessing chemical abortion pills remain in place.
However, abortion advocates have criticized this policy, which is in place to protect women’s health and safety. The chemical abortion pill regimen is governed by a “Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy” that includes, among other things, a requirement that abortion pills be dispensed in person—not over the phone or at a pharmacy.
The current precautions for chemical abortions are not strong enough as it is. The Trump administration should resist calls from abortion advocates to weaken important safety standards that are meant to protect women from further adverse health consequences.
Scrapping Restriction on Fetal Tissue Research
A researcher at a National Institutes of Health facility in Minnesota has appealed to the federal government for an exemption to the Trump administration’s restriction on using fetal tissue from elective abortions in NIH research.
As explained in a recent Heritage Foundation report, the Trump administration announced last summer that it would “cease intramural research” within NIH that “used fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions” and would “subject extramural research (conducted outside the NIH, but with NIH grant money) to additional levels of review.”
NIH also announced “a $20 million funding opportunity for alternative methods to current fetal tissue research practices,” the report said, adding:
These measures rightly further separate federal research funding from the abortion industry. Good science and life-affirming, ethical research are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is ethically derived sources—such as discarded surgical tissue and adult stem cells—that have contributed to successful treatments for a variety of ailments—not tissue obtained from elective abortions.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has led the fight to dispel myths about fetal tissue from aborted baby body parts and has done great work to highlight the myriad of ethical alternatives.
In a written statement, the institute said:
Those who advocate experimentation using body parts harvested from aborted children are shamelessly exploiting the coronavirus pandemic, playing on people’s fears at a vulnerable time so that a select few can continue to use aborted fetal tissue in their research. The fact is that there are modern, successful alternatives available.
Already, over 60 potential treatments are under investigation–none of which need aborted fetal tissue to fight coronavirus. Instead of wasting precious time listening to these dishonest claims, we should continue to focus our attention on successful, ethical alternatives that don’t require the exploitation of baby body parts, taxpayer dollars, and public sentiment that just wants a swift and compassionate end to this crisis.
The Trump administration should wholly reject calls to walk back one of its signature pro-life victories.
More Developments Ahead
In the weeks and months to come, policymakers at all levels of government will be working to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Policymakers must remain vigilant and reject attempts to weaken pro-life protections or prop up the abortion industry. Responses to the pandemic “should be targeted, temporary, and directed at public health efforts.”