Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered a ban on abortions in the state unless the life of the mother is threatened. The order came on Monday, a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said abortion did not qualify as “essential” care and ordered any scheduled procedures to be postponed amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers,” a statement from Paxton's office read. “Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”
The order will expire April 21, but before then any medical worker providing abortion care can be fined $1,000 or face jail time of up to 180 days.
Paxton and Abbott are following in the footsteps of Ohio. On March 17, Ohio’s governor ordered the cancellation of all nonessential medical procedures; over the weekend, Ohio’s deputy attorney general, Jonathan Fulkerson, sent letters to several abortion clinics in the state, accusing them of being in violation of the order.
In Maryland, an order was slightly less clear. In a press conference about the state order suspending nonessential businesses and procedures Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan appeared to tell a reporter he considered abortion a nonessential service. Hogan’s office did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for clarification on the issue.
In response, abortion clinics, physicians, and reproductive rights advocates have argued that abortion providers are not violating the orders in any of these states because the procedure is essential health care. In Ohio, clinics and physicians are continuing to provide abortion care despite Fulkerson’s letters.
As holds on “nonessential” health care began to be rolled out in states across the country last week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology preempted Republican and anti-abortion governors and attorneys general by issuing a joint statement imploring state governments not to categorize abortion as nonessential.
“To the extent that hospital systems or ambulatory surgical facilities are categorizing procedures that can be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, abortion should not be categorized as such a procedure,” the statement read.
“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible,” the groups continued. “The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”
So far, no litigation has been filed to keep clinics open and functioning, but the American Civil Liberties Union is observing the fallout in Maryland and Texas.