ABC News Corona Virus Health and Science

Are abortions considered 'essential' medical procedures amid COVID-19 outbreak?

Ohio's Planned Parenthood will remain open and continue conducting abortions.

As state officials have called for halting nonessential medical procedures to save resources for battling the novel coronavirus, not everyone appears to agree on what that means for abortions.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on March 21 that all nonessential surgeries and procedures "not immediately medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient" should be postponed.

That applies to "routine dermatological, ophthalmological and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures that are not immediately medically necessary such as orthopedic surgeries or any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother," according to Abbott's statement.

Planned Parenthood of Texas said in a statement that it's "carefully evaluating Governor Abbott's Executive Order to ensure compliance."

"Our priority," the statement continued, "remains the health and safety of our patients while ensuring access to urgent reproductive healthcare during this crisis, including abortion."

Planned Parenthood of Texas didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News on Tuesday to clarify exactly which procedures, if any, it would be continuing.

On Monday, the state's attorney general backed up Abbott's executive order by warning licensed health care providers and facilities "including abortion providers" that "failure to comply with an executive order issued by the governor related to the COVID-19 disaster can result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time."

"No one is exempt from the governor's executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers," Attorney General Ken Paxton said. "Those who violate the governor's order will be met with the full force of the law."

The state's announcement came just days after Ohio's Department of Health called for the stop of nonessential surgeries that use personal protective equipment required to help fight COVID-19.

Ohio's health department then received complaints that "surgical abortions" were continuing at three clinics and that nonessential procedures were happening at a urology facility.

"If abortion is a 'choice,' then abortion is an elective procedure," said Mark Harrington, president and founder of Created Equal, an Ohio-based anti-abortion group. "However, abortionists want to have it both ways. In a clear double standard, abortion centers across the nation are staying open during this national health crisis, risking public health and safety."

Many medical experts and advocates disagree.

"Abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure, as medical experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology have recognized," Iris E. Harvey and Kersha Deibel, the presidents and CEOs of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, respectively, said in a joint statement on March 21. "We know your health care can't wait."

The state's attorney general sent cease and desist letters on behalf of the health department to the facilities on March 20 and March 21, demanding that they "immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions."

A spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said: "This is not an abortion issue. A letter was also sent to a urology group that was allegedly performing elective surgeries."

Harvey and Deibel said their attorney immediately responded to Yost's office, assuring that Planned Parenthood "was complying" in order "to reduce the use of equipment in short supply."

"As Ohioans do their part to keep each other healthy during this COVID-19 pandemic," Harvey and Deibel said, "Planned Parenthood is committed to working with public health leaders to serve the community."

And at least for the time being, in Ohio, that includes surgical abortions.

What to know about Coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: Coronavirus map