Abortion Access Shifting in Some States Amid COVID-19

Early press reports suggested that Maryland may also be considering restricting surgical abortion procedures in the face of PPE shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in a statement to Medscape Medical News, Maryland DOH Deputy Director of Communications Charles Gischlar wrote: “Each medical practitioner should exercise their independent professional judgment in determining what procedures and appointments are urgent.”

In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves told the Associated Press that Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, “does, in fact, operate doing procedures that are elective and not required” and that he “would be prepared to try to take additional action” if the clinic did not stop elective surgeries.

Jackson Women’s Health did not respond to requests for information about whether any procedures have stopped.

Katz, the lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Rights, says they are also closely watching states with a history of restricting access to abortion, such as Louisiana and Oklahoma.

“There’s a concern that there could be a loss of access in that whole region, in addition to Texas,” she noted.

In addition, rules for certain states that rely on out-of-state providers for abortion services will further impact provision.

For the time being, physicians at South Dakota’s only abortion clinic, which relies on out-of-state providers, have been able to continue travel to the clinic in Sioux Falls on a scaled-back basis, a spokesperson at Planned Parenthood North Central States told Medscape Medical News.

Although abortion care remains available at all their clinics, they have reduced some services “to comply with new guidelines that preserve PPE,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile Rebecca Tong, director of development at Trust Women, which sends doctors across state lines to provide abortions in underserved areas, said their organization has received more calls than usual from patients asking whether their clinics are open and available.

According to Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, clarification of the Oklahoma order on Friday required the healthcare organization to halt abortions at the Oklahoma clinic and immediately redirect the patients to the organization’s Kansas clinic.

“We’ve been slammed in Kansas,” Burkhart told Medscape Medical News. “I had to go outside and turn people away in Oklahoma on Friday, and a lot of the patients we have in Wichita are ones we had on the books in Oklahoma.”

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