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Facilities that usually aim to convince women to continue pregnancies remain open in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama, where officials have issued abortion bans.

Some of the same states that have issued orders to ban abortion during the coronavirus pandemic are allowing anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” to remain open.

A VICE News review found these types of facilities, which usually aim to convince women to continue their pregnancies, remain open in states like Texas, Ohio, and Alabama. In each of those states, public officials have ordered non-essential businesses to close and non-essential medical procedures to be canceled due to the coronavirus. And in officials’ views, abortion is one of those non-essential medical procedures that must be postponed, except in the case of medical emergencies.

While Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights advocates have secured temporary restraining orders that will let Ohio and Alabama clinics offer abortions, the procedure is now effectively banned in Texas. Texans will have to drive an average of 243 miles, each way, to get a legal abortion, according to a study released Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions.

But as women scramble to end their pregnancies in the middle of a pandemic that’s now claimed more than 9,600 lives in the United States, some champions of anti-abortion centers say their work is too important to stop. Typically, these centers offer services like pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and supplies for caring for a baby. They do not refer or perform abortions; some refuse to offer hormonal birth control. Many are faith-based.

Heartbeat International and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), which are affiliated with vast networks of thousands of anti-abortion centers, both sent emails to supporters last week celebrating the fact that pregnancy centers have kept working during the coronavirus pandemic.

“While businesses and organizations are being told to shut down pregnancy centers are finding new ways to serve and connect with their communities,” Thomas Glessner, NIFLA’s president, wrote in an email to supporters obtained by VICE News. “The health resources provided by these dedicated life-affirming ministries are absolutely essential. Pregnancy centers are staying open and saving lives.”

As long as abortion clinics remain open, Glesser added, these centers must try to “counter” them. “As one executive of a center said to me, ‘abortion is deadlier than the coronavirus,’” he said.

The email includes a testimonial from a center staffer in Pennsylvania, thanking NIFLA for hosting a webinar that helped keep the center, previously ready to close, open. NIFLA declined to comment on Glessner’s email, and directed VICE News to a statement about how NIFLA is advising centers on how to keep operating safely and encouraging them to follow federal and CDC guidelines.

In a video posted online Wednesday, Heartbeat International Vice President Cindi Boston said that Heartbeat International typically receives more than 1,000 calls, texts, and chats through its “Options Line,” which provides consultations about unwanted pregnancies and helps connect women with local organizations that oppose abortion. But on one recent day, the line saw a 50% increase in calls.

“Those are incredible numbers,” Boston said in the video. “That means women are isolated, they’re feeling more alone than ever, but we have the ability to rescue them.”

Heartbeat International didn’t reply to VICE News interview requests.

On their websites, some open anti-abortion centers say that they are changing up their services in response to the coronavirus, through adjusting hours and services, or eliminating walk-in appointments, among other tactics. One organization, Agape Pregnancy Resource Center outside Austin, Texas, plans to leave pregnancy tests “in a bag on a table outside Agape’s backdoor to do the test at home,” according to guidelines posted online in late March.

But per the guidelines, some clients are able to receive care inside the center, as long as they’ve been pre-screened for COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking what Agape refers to as “essential medical services (i.e. services necessary to make an informed decision about pregnancy).”

A disclaimer on Agape’s website, however, cautions that its “information is provided as an educational service and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional and/or medical advice.” Agape Pregnancy Resource Center, which also doesn’t provide birth control, didn’t immediately return VICE News requests for comment.

Houston Pregnancy Help Center, an anti-abortion organization that runs three locations in Houston, Texas, declares on its website that it “will remain open amid the pandemic as a life-affirming place where women can find resources and truth regarding their pregnancies.” A video about the plan to stay open features a girl identified as “16-year-old Denae,” and how Denae “chose life for her baby” after seeing an ultrasound, talking to a nurse, and receiving prenatal vitamins.

On Friday the group’s CEO, Sylvia Johnson-Matthews, said the center would likely provide about 30 women and girls that day with free, essential items that they need to care for their pregnancies and babies.

She kept a call with VICE News short. “I don’t want to get in a media battle with people who don’t really come into my community, serve people in my community,” Johnson-Matthews said.

In an email, NARAL Pro-Choice America spokesperson Amanda Thayer condemned the anti-abortion centers.

“Anti-choice organizations are and have always been consumed with ending legal abortion by any means necessary, and that they’re exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to push their unpopular agenda illustrates there is no low they will not sink to,” Thayer said. “Amid a global pandemic, they are actively pushing disinformation and bucking science to suggest that abortion is not essential or time-sensitive care.”

As the coronavirus sweeps across the United States, abortion clinics have been threatened by more than just officials’ attempts to close them down. Forced to cut or postpone services, independent providers — who perform the majority of American abortions — are facing financial devastation. Clinics that rely on doctors who travel to provide abortions have struggled to bring them in safely.

Several anti-abortion centers contacted by VICE News had also been shuttered by the coronavirus. Alissa Johnson, interim executive director of Gateway Express Testing in Yukon, Oklahoma, said that she was forced to close after her volunteers, many of whom are over 65 and therefore more vulnerable to the virus, were unable to come in.

“If I just had one other person we could see clients,” Johnson said. Instead, her center is set to be closed through the end of April.

“I’ve had to actually turn quite a few people away,” Johnson added. ”It makes me sad that we’re not able to help, be out there helping people in this time.”

Source: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5dm84n/anti-abortion-crisis-pregnancy-centers-are-still-open-in-states-that-banned-abortion-because-of-coronavirus?fbclid=IwAR2Td-iOwi0gnGYGSZZavlHD0Bm3VJYbEWYFR3Ou1LC2reLSb-EkCe_6hck

Even if a Jane’s judicial bypass case is approved, Texas’ ban on abortion has closed clinics across the state, leaving young people with limited options.

With more time at home with potentially controlling parents watching over their phone activity, young people may not even be able to seek out their full range of pregnancy options.

As the COVID-19 pandemic grips our country and world, elected officials in Texas and across the country are using the crisis to further their anti-abortion agenda. This puts young people in a particularly vulnerable situation.

I am the client services manager at Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that helps young people navigate parental consent laws to access birth control and abortion care in Texas. We refer to the teens we serve as “Jane” to protect their anonymity. Over the last few weeks, our volunteers and I have witnessed countless examples of Janes trying to navigate our new reality in Texas, where our governor and attorney general have exploited the COVID-19 crisis to ban abortion in our state.

One Jane, who is already a parent with a toddler, said she cannot risk contracting COVID-19 to leave the state for abortion care. Instead, Jane is choosing to wait for the Texas abortion ban to lift—a decision the courts could make in the coming weeks. Another Jane told me that her grandmother, who is also her caretaker and immunocompromised because of her age, isn’t able to travel with Jane as she gets her abortion out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Therefore, like some other young pregnant people in the state, she is planning to wait out the abortion ban.

From local stay-at-home orders to Texas’ abortion ban, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the challenging barriers to abortion care that young people in Texas already face. Texas is one of 37 states with parental consent laws on abortion. Our state requires teens to obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian before getting an abortion. If a teen cannot obtain parental consent, they must go through the judicial bypass process, which involves appearing before a judge to get special permission to obtain abortion care.

Additionally, young people often have to travel long distances, miss school or work, and cover costs out of pocket. Fortunately, the National Abortion Federation is now covering the financial costs for Janes who go through the judicial bypass process.

While judges may currently hold hearings via teleconference for judicial bypass cases as part of special court rules during COVID-19, even if a Jane’s bypass case is approved, Texas’ ban on abortion has closed clinics across the state. Due to anti-abortion politicians using a public health crisis to ban abortion, young people in Texas are left with limited options.

While we hope that young people have supportive parents they can rely on when seeking an abortion, that’s not always the case. Many of the young people we work with would be kicked out of the home if their parents discovered they were pregnant. Others are part of the foster care system or are unaccompanied minors in immigration detention facilities, so the law inherently forces them to go through the judicial bypass process.

These barriers could prove to be too much for anyone, but for young people—especially in the midst of a pandemic—they can put care entirely out of reach. Unlike most adults, young people have little freedom of movement and privacy. Before COVID-19, young people could use the excuse of school hours or after-school events to get to the multiple doctors’ appointments Texas requires for an abortion. Now, school is canceled or virtual, and with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, they may not be able to leave their home at all. And like many adults seeking abortion care, young people would prefer to get their abortions earlier in pregnancy if possible—the further along in pregnancy, the more costly their care and the more restrictions imposed by the state. But with more time at home with potentially controlling parents watching over their phone activity, young people may not even be able to seek out their full range of pregnancy options. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a delay of days or weeks can be the difference between a Jane exercising her reproductive rights or being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

Jane’s Due Process was founded to help teens navigate all of these steps, so we see every single day how challenging these barriers are. Our 24/7 hotline is a lifeline for so many young people right now. Teens can call or text Jane’s Due Process at 866-999-5263 and we’ll help them figure out how to get the care they need.

We are here so that young people have someone to guide them through the legal system when they have nowhere else to turn. As a case manager for all our Janes, I hear firsthand the obstacles they face, and I’m unable to see how these cruel actions could possibly be “pro-life” or how exploiting a pandemic to ban abortion benefits public health. Health-care providers agree that abortion is a time-sensitive and essential medical service that everyone should be able to access once they have made the decision to do so.

What we need from our state leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic is compassion for all pregnant people in Texas. We need expanded access to health care. We need resources so that people can care for themselves and their families. Now is not the time for Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton to play politics with our lives and futures.

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2020/04/09/this-is-how-texas-covid-19-abortion-ban-uniquely-burdens-teens/

In several GOP-led states, politicians are trying to ban abortion as a “nonessential” procedure. “We’re clear,” she says, “that women need access right now.”

Alexis McGill Johnson speaks at a rally in Lafayette Square, 2019.BY MARLENA SLOSS/THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES.

In any serious crisis, civil rights are also in grave danger. And with COVID-19 sweeping the country, some politicians have seized on the pandemic as an opportunity to restrict access to abortion. A handful of Republican-led states—including Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Mississippi—have sought to effectively ban abortion, claiming that it is a “nonessential” procedure. Against this backdrop, Planned Parenthood and its partners are scrambling to protect access and have filed lawsuits against the bans, managing to secure restraining orders in some states to block them. But in Texas, abortion is currently banned after Republican Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order to halt abortion in the state and conservative judges on Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently upheld the policy, which is scheduled to stay in effect through at least April 21.

Vanity Fair’s Hive spoke with Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, about how antiabortion politicians are seeking to exploit the coronavirus crisis with a spate of abortion bans, under the guise of public health amid the pandemic.

Vanity Fair: Walk me through what we’ve seen in these states like Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Texas amid the coronavirus pandemic that is of such great concern to Planned Parenthood at the moment.

Alexis McGill Johnson: First, I think it’s important to state that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure, and we know that reproductive rights are essential. And right now what we have in various states across the country are antiabortion politicians who are using this pandemic to play politics with our health. They’re doing that through delaying, creating barriers to care, trying to make it more difficult for patients to access safe and legal abortion. They’re taking actions like executive orders. We’ve seen bans in states—Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Oklahoma, Alabama—where they are essentially trying to say that because of the pandemic that all nonessential health care should be stopped and banned. And we firmly believe that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure. We’re clear that women need access right now.

Just to clarify the position of politicians in these states, they are trying to argue that abortion is not an essential procedure, thus effectively banning it, and Planned Parenthood is taking the opposite position?

Look, this isn’t just Planned Parenthood saying that abortion is essential. This is also the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and [other] medical associations as well that understand that if we just ground ourselves in understanding how pregnancy works and how abortion works that just delaying by a few weeks actually makes abortion inaccessible. So it’s really critically important to help support women who are in need now. And that’s where we are and obviously many of our partners as well.

What I would love to add to that though is the idea that they’re using the pandemic and the banning of nonessential services broadly under the guise of protecting people—the more people who are able to shelter in place allows people to not be exposed. They’re using a framework around abortion not being essential as a way of kind of further mandating people staying in place. And we’ve had patients call our California clinics from the state of Texas because they are so worried about getting a procedure, which means, they are getting on planes, they are getting on buses, they are driving themselves hundreds of miles across the country to access a time-sensitive medical procedure. It means that they may further need childcare. Women make up the majority of health care workers, so we may actually taking health care providers out of the responsibility that they’re doing.

This idea that this is about kind of protecting communities from the pandemic really falls flat on its face when you actually see how people are responding to it because it is time-sensitive.

What is the status of the ban in Texas, which is something of an outlier?

In Texas, the ban was appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And the Fifth Circuit—rather than abide by a temporary restraining order, which would be a couple of weeks to consider the case—it used an extraordinary measure to allow Governor Greg Abbott to essentially drastically restrict abortion using his executive order.

I think what’s really important here to understand is that there is no other form of health care that’s being targeted in this way, only abortion. When we see these bans, these specific attacks on abortion providers, it’s really important to look at it in a context of how other health care providers are being treated. And you can see that we’re being singled out.

Are you expecting governors in other states to issue executive orders, as Governor Abbott did in Texas, or other states to take similarly extraordinary measures to limit access to abortion?

It’s really clear that politicians are exploiting the fear and urgency of this moment to push their political agenda to ban abortion and that we will continue to see those with that ideological agenda be pushed to continue to do more.

I would remind folks that these are the same politicians that have been eroding public-health infrastructure for decades. It’s one of the reasons why we’re struggling in this pandemic right now, with a shortage of providers, a shortage of health insurance. These are the same folks who refuse to expand Medicaid. These are the same folks who supported forcing organizations like Planned Parenthood out of Title X. You have to connect the dots here. This is a moment where the pandemic is being used as cover to really push a horrible political agenda around abortion.

Looking at Texas specifically, what are the next steps for Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union in that fight and the extraordinary measure by Governor Abbott?

It is an extraordinary measure. We can’t speculate on what will be the immediate next step there. I will say we are monitoring a number of other states and we’re continuing to do everything we can in our power to fight for our patients. We’re continuing to support folks who need to leave the state, who need access, as I mentioned before. That’s the work. We’re responding to the crisis appropriately by being there for our patients.

What does it look like on the ground for these women seeking procedures in a state like Texas, where access is cut off during the coronavirus pandemic?

I think that’s really important, right? We’re all just trying to survive this crisis. It’s a very scary time. And women are, in particular, bearing the brunt of the work already in this crisis, as we normally do. We are homeschooling children. We are working low-wage jobs that have been deemed essential. Women are making up the majority of health care workers. Black and Latinx women, in particular, are facing incredibly harsh economic circumstances. And the fear that they won’t be able to access basic reproductive health care is forcing them into extraordinary measures to seek access to abortion—driving across state lines, putting their lives in jeopardy, and having to navigate this in a way that does not actually bring more safety in a pandemic, but actually really exposes them.

I also think it’s important to think about what we know from studying pandemics past, that this is also a time where domestic violence increases. This is a time where we need to actually extend more access to sexual reproductive health care—family planning, STI screenings, abortion access—not less. I can’t imagine sheltering in place with someone who might be abusive and still need access to a time-sensitive medical procedure and not be able to receive it.

Do you think the bans that we are seeing in these states are part of broader, long-term strategy? For instance, another attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade?

I think that they see this crisis as an opportunity to push their agenda. I think that this is absolutely connected to the hundreds of restrictions that we’ve seen introduced in state legislatures across the country over the last 10 years that have been designed to shame women, to target abortion providers, to criminalize pregnancy, to criminalize miscarriage. This is definitely part of a long game of shaming access to reproductive health care, both from the case of before the Supreme Court now to the bans and again as I mentioned Title X. They have been waging a very, very coordinated attack and they seized on this crisis that the world is going through to use it as an opportunity in the name of public health.

Are we seeing other attacks on women’s reproductive health, aside from these bans, amid the COVID-19 crisis?

The expansion of the Hyde Amendment to a new pot of funds [in the Congressional relief package] was really clearly an attempt to target Planned Parenthood health centers. And what we will continue to see are these cruel measures that continue to do a disservice to the people who are already struggling to access care. I think that we will see, particularly in the Senate, whenever they lead on these things, to attach Hyde to everything, to continue to expand their hold on that.

I also think we’ll see people respond to it. Certainly they will be using these rules to try to push an agenda. But I do believe that folks who are, you know, who are hearing what’s happening will be out there fighting and making sure that their electeds are hearing from them that in the middle of a health crisis this is the time to actually be expanding access to care, not making it more difficult.

What can people, activists, communities do in the middle of the pandemic to push back on some of these measures?

They can educate themselves on what’s happening. They can educate their networks. They can call their electeds and talk about the impact that they see and their concerns about what’s happening. We can’t stand by and let our elected officials put the health of our patients and communities at risk. We have to ensure that every person has the health care that gives them control over their lives. Planned Parenthood is building a watchdog team, which is really helping to try to track all the attacks and to push back. So we have some information where you can text “enough” to 22422 to get involved and to learn more. And then also to help us manage the litany of attacks that’ll be made toward us.

Is there anything you think people might be missing or I might have missed on this topic?

I just think that it’s really important in a moment where we are so isolated from each other because of our necessary social distancing that we really take a moment to understand the experiences that so many people are going through. We know that no one stops needing sexual and reproductive health care in a public health care crisis. People are still having sex. People still need birth control. They still need STI testing. They still need safe and legal abortion. We are living in a tale of different states, a tale of two states. Where if you are living in one state, your governor may have created an executive order just to limit your ability to access abortion, and there are other states where you can still drive down the street and experience your time-sensitive care. That’s just an unfairness that I think this pandemic is really exposing. It’s really shedding new light on the insanity of so many of these bans that have been used to target abortion access.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Source: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/04/coronavirus-planned-parenthood-alexis-mcgill-johnson-abortion-bans

“Not enough conversation is happening around how we transport patients and our volunteer networks that exist around the country.”

Compounding these access issues today is the risk of exposure to COVID-19 as patients travel to and from clinics, hotels, and other shared spaces to receive care.

Last month, a woman took a bus from her home in Louisiana, traveling hundreds of miles to New Mexico to secure a later abortion. Three days later, her procedure complete, she was ready to return home.

Then her bus was cancelled.

With the help of volunteers from the Brigid Alliance, a national organization that provides funds and travel support to patients seeking an abortion, and which had arranged her bus travel, the woman was able to secure a flight home.

As transportation providers across the country drastically reduce or cancel their regular routes in response to the COVID-19 crisis, stories like this may become increasingly common. Amtrak and Greyhound are among the carriers that have canceled certain routes, while public transportation in cities like Madison, New Orleans, and Boston are operating on reduced schedules.

“We’ve seen the barriers that our clients face increase dramatically in size and number,” said Diana Parker, director of strategic partnerships at the Midwest Access Coalition, which provides travel support to those traveling from, to, and within the midwest for abortion care. “Under COVID-19, public transportation is, all too often, the only remaining mechanism that makes abortion access a reality in this country,” Parker explained in an email.

As the New York Times reported last year, research from the University of California, San Francisco shows that more than 11 million women across the country are further than an hour’s drive from the nearest abortion clinic. Travel requirements are among the most onerous barriers to care for people seeking an abortion, and have the potential to exacerbate already existing hurdles. This is especially true for those who are seeking care later in pregnancy, which is only available in a handful of states. Compounding these access issues today is the risk of exposure to COVID-19 as patients travel to and from clinics, hotels, and other shared spaces to receive care.

“Our clients are dealing with untangling the newfound web of clinic pre-screens and restrictions that so often push back personal abortion care timelines while increasing associated costs,” Parker said. “Clients are also dealing with … perhaps more obvious hurdles, such as more complicated travel itineraries, round-the-clock childcare needs, sky-rocketing costs, and an increased sense of isolation.”

Her team’s days, Parker explained, are now full with last-minute pivots thanks to various anti-choice directives and injunctions that come down each day, sometimes multiple times a day. Just last week, Texas’ COVID-19 abortion ban was blocked by a judge on Monday but then reinstated by an appeals court one day later.

Restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have already led to a drop in the number of patients at some clinics nationwide. The Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, has seen a 10 percent decrease in the number of patients seeking an appointment over the past three weeks. “Show rates” for those who do make an appointment, however, have risen from 50 percent to 85 percent, suggesting pregnant people may be increasingly unsure of their ability to access an abortion in the future. Meanwhile, Karen Duda, coordinator of the Haven Coalition in New York City, reports that requests for help from her organization have gone down “dramatically” in the past two-and-a-half weeks, since the first stay-at-home orders were issued for the state. The organization provides lodging and clinic escort services to people traveling to the city to have an abortion.

Alison Dreith, deputy director of the Hope Clinic, told Rewire.News that she believes in the coming weeks and months, it will “most certainly” become more difficult to provide care for patients outside of her clinic’s community in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. “We see patients from around the country,” Dreith said. “It was already really difficult to get to us.”

But other practical support providers are facing greater demand for their services amid the ever-changing landscape of the coronavirus pandemic. “Our work has grown and is growing,” said Odile Schalit, executive director of the Brigid Alliance. “The thing about COVID is that it really hits at the heart of practical support work and how critical it is to accessing abortion care … [COVID-19] just asks us to do more of it and under more stress and with greater concern for safety of all different kinds.” The group is also anticipating a rise in the need for later abortion care, as more patients experience a delay in access to services.

Though Parker reports the Midwest Access Coalition has seen its highest-ever client volume in March 2020 alone, the coronavirus has forced the group to suspend its 200-strong volunteer host-and-driver program, exponentially increasing the organization’s operating costs and the level of complexity of case work. “Right now, we’re booking clients expensive hotel stays and ride-shares, and doing our best to stay afloat,” Parker said

The Brigid Alliance has lost long-standing relationships with some hotels, but they are either closed or at half-capacity because of COVID-19. “We have fewer options,” Odile said.

But as the country’s transportation infrastructure continues to contract, reaching an accommodation and abortion care is increasingly complicated.

Practical support providers like Odile and Parker are pivoting to rental cars as a favored method of travel, but the shift requires different considerations than securing a ticket on a bus, train, or plane. It’s an option that depends on a litany of privileges, including having a driver’s license. “The majority of our clients either don’t own cars, aren’t old enough to easily rent a car, or don’t have the funds to pay the up-front costs that go along with car rental,” though these costs would later be reimbursed, Parker said.

These questions are not just limited to transportation to and from a city where a clinic is located, but to the clinic itself. Dreith explained that patients, who are often under sedation, don’t necessarily want to use rideshares such as Uber or Lyft, and may be uncomfortable navigating public transport in an unfamiliar place.

“It’s a really concerning time,” said Dreith, referring to the risks faced by practical support organizations and their volunteers. “Not enough conversation is happening around how we transport patients and our volunteer networks that exist around the country.”

Recently, a patient at the Hope Clinic needed a volunteer to transport them from their appointment; one was found on a second try. “That was something that came with a really conscious and heavy heart to even be able to ask someone to do that, knowing the risks that could put people in,” Dreith said

“In a moment like this, we’re all now questioning how we leave our homes. We’re all now questioning the safety of getting on a train or getting in a car or going to the doctor,” Schalit said. “It is an opportune moment right now for those of us with privilege to consider and really feel what for years have been the realities and the barriers and the fears that people trying to access abortion care have faced.”

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2020/04/06/when-the-abortion-clinic-is-open-but-you-have-no-way-to-get-there/

NI Secretary Brandon Lewis said women from the region can continue to travel to England to access terminations despite lockdown.

Strict abortion laws were overturned following a change to the law voted in at Westminster last year (PA)

Strict abortion laws were overturned following a change to the law voted in at Westminster last year (PA)

Stormont’s leaders have clashed over the prospect of allowing women in Northern Ireland access to home abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill called for the introduction of telemedicine services during the crisis, but First Minister Arlene Foster has reiterated her opposition to “abortion on demand”.

While a new legal framework to allow terminations in the region came into effect at the end of last month, the services have not yet been rolled out.

Women seeking terminations in the interim have been advised to travel to Great Britain.

However, restrictions on travel due to coronavirus have placed the arrangement into difficulty.

I don’t think it’s any secret that I don’t believe that abortion on demand should be available in Northern IrelandArlene Foster

During the Covid-19 emergency, women in the early stages of pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales are able to secure abortion medication from a doctor through telemedicine services.

Pro-choice campaigners have called for this provision to be introduced in Northern Ireland as well.

Health Minister Robin Swann has responsibility for the issue, but any move to introduce the measure will require the agreement of the wider powersharing executive.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the Stormont Executive on Monday.

Anti-abortion protesters stage a silent demonstration at Stormont against the liberalisation of abortion laws (Brian Lawless/PA)

Anti-abortion protesters stage a silent demonstration at Stormont against the liberalisation of abortion laws (Brian Lawless/PA)

Afterwards, Mrs Foster said she would not give a running commentary on the executive’s deliberations. She said a “full discussion” was required.

“The Health minister will bring papers forward and we will have discussions in relation to those papers,” she said.

“But I don’t think it’s any secret that I don’t believe that abortion on demand should be available in Northern Ireland.

“I think it’s a very retrograde step for our society here in Northern Ireland instead of supporting people who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, we’re not even having any discussion around that and how we can support people in those circumstances, how we can provide perinatal care.”

This is about compassionate healthcare, this is about making sure that we have supports here for women who find themselves in a vulnerable situationMichelle O’Neill

Ms O’Neill said the service should be available to Northern Ireland women.

“I support telemedicine,” she said.

“What we’re talking about is compassionate healthcare, modern healthcare for women.

“What we’re talking about is responding to women’s need at the time of global crisis – women shouldn’t be left out in terms of supports that are put in place.

“And so the regulations that have went through Westminster, the legislation that’s went through, needs to be implemented here.

“Obviously this is about compassionate healthcare, this is about making sure that we have supports here for women who find themselves in a vulnerable situation.

“So the health minister has an obligation to put in place those regulations and to put in place the mechanisms in order to make sure those supports are there for women as has been legislated for.”

There has been anger among the pro-choice lobby that the Stormont Executive has not yet set up termination services.

Alliance for Choice expressed frustration and claimed Stormont is “blocking” abortion services.

Naomi Connor, Alliance for Choice co-convenor in Belfast, said: “The World Health Organisation notes that abortion is essential healthcare in a pandemic, and yet the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Health in NI have found it acceptable to do absolutely nothing, except to release videos extolling travel to England for treatment, when the reality of clinic accessibility is limited to an eight-hour each-way freight ferry with no companions and only for those who are not quarantined or self-isolating.”

Earlier Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said travel is currently appropriate for medical needs.

“Travel should only be for essential travel, one of those key points is a medical need or the need to provide medical care and support to other people. So if there is a medical need for someone to travel, that is something that is appropriate within the guidelines,” he told the BBC.

Source: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/foster-and-oneill-clash-over-prospect-of-ni-telemedicine-abortions-39105889.html?fbclid=IwAR2x2LoPkZma4Q91jeP9An4NBDIZ6m0USG1CiYZFhNAAuDbZa7s63CXPsbg

It’s already apparent a small minority of zealots will do everything they can to use the coronavirus crisis to eradicate the right to an abortion

An abortion rights activist holds a sign outside of the US supreme court in Washington DC. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Texas says abortion not essential, church services are

Coronavirus is an unprecedented public health crisis. But, for some Republicans, it’s also a political opportunity: anti-abortion activists are ruthlessly using the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on reproductive rights. Six conservative states – Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas – have categorized abortions as non-essential, except in very limited cases, effectively banning access to the procedure during the pandemic.

Federal judges have stopped the bans from going into effect in most of these states. However, on Tuesday an appeals court ruled that Texas could reinstate its abortion ban. On the same day women were told that their reproductive rights were considered dispensable, Texas’s Governor Greg Abbott declared that religious services were “essential” and in-person gatherings could continue during the pandemic. This is despite the fact that there have been multiple cases of coronavirus spreading in places of worship, with people dying as a result.

Getting an abortion in Texas wasn’t exactly easy before Covid-19; the state has 21 clinics for 6 million women of reproductive age. But now desperate women are going to be forced to put themselves in danger by traveling long distances to get care in neighboring states. According to the Guttmacher Institute the Texas ban has increased one-way distances to an abortion clinic from 12 miles to 243 miles; that’s an increase of almost 2,000%. As is the case with all restrictions on abortion, the burden will fall disproportionately on low-income women without the resources to travel.

It is also likely that the Texas abortion ban will result in more women attempting dangerous DIY procedures. According to a recent study women in Texas are already three times more likely to try to end their pregnancy on their own than women in other states.

There is nothing pro-life about exploiting an emergency to further a political agenda. There’s nothing pro-life about forcing women to give birth during a pandemic. There’s nothing pro-life women having to put themselves in danger to get the help they need, and the services the constitution is supposed to protect. But, as has always been clear, anti-abortion fanatics don’t care about “life”, they care about control.

The Texas abortion ban is supposed to be temporary. But our civil liberties are most fragile during times of fear and crisis; rights that are lost are not easily won back. It’s not just our physical health that we need to worry about during this pandemic; it’s the health of our democracy. As is already apparent, a small minority of zealots will do everything they can to use this crisis to eradicate the right to an abortion in America.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/04/abortion-restrictions-coronavirus-pandemic-nothing-pro-life

Republicans have stacked the federal courts with ideologues willing to entrain any bad faith argument designed to overturn Roe—even the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, what is so dangerous about the COVID-19 fight and abortion is that like the virus itself: It has happened in this country at exactly the worst time. Shutterstock

It turns out conservative lawmakers didn’t need a U.S. Supreme Court stacked with conservative justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. A global health pandemic might do the trick. 

That’s the picture emerging from the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the fight over Texas’ attempt to ban legal abortion during the COVID-19 outbreak. In a brief filed Wednesday night, attorneys for the state argued that abortion providers are looking for “special treatment” by challenging the declaration by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) that abortion is not an “essential” medical service and therefore would be suspending along with other “elective” medical procedures as part of the states virus mitigation efforts.

They accuse abortion providers of failing to adequately protect staff and patients and invited the Fifth Circuit judges to use this case to expand the power of states to ban abortion outright. 

“The Supreme Court in Roe considered only whether the States’ interest in fetal life was sufficient to justify a complete ban on elective previability abortions,” Texas argues in its brief. “It did not consider the possible impact of a public-health crisis.”

That question—whether states can use a public health crisis to ban abortion, and if so, for how long— has emerged as the most dire threat to Roe v. Wade yet. Not surprisingly, Republican state attorneys general are lining up behind Texas to claim they too can use the worst public health crisis in a century to eradicate legal abortion.

“Neither Roe nor any post-Roe abortion cases evaluates risk to women and the public at large posed by providers seeking to be categorically exempt from life-saving measures that are required to respond to a growing epidemic,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) argues in an amicus brief in support of the Texas ban. “To the extent they do apply, the balance of interests is firmly on the side of the States.”

The ways in which the states work together to advocate for Texas’ ban before the conservative judges of the Fifth Circuit are important. Paxton takes the firm line of arguing for raw state power here—both to ban abortion and to be insulated from judicial review in its decision to do so. That frees up Landry to appeal to discuss all the other difficult decisions states face in managing the COVID-19 outbreak.

“In the COVID-19 crisis, governors are making extremely difficult choices, with far-reaching consequence,” the amicus brief states. 

Closing schools burdens parents who have to stay home with their children and experience lost leave time, income, and potentially their jobs. Graduations, bar exams, and criminal trials are on hold. Medical testing, housing, and treatment of individual in prisons, nursing homes, juvenile facilities, and foster homes must be considered. Some cities will receive floating Navy hospitals and in New Orleans, a field hospital is being set up in a convention center to address the expected shortage of hospital beds. At the same time, state first responders are becoming ill. The shutdown of businesses leads to unemployment. The homeless must be evaluated, housed, tested, and treated. School lunches must be distributed so school children can eat.

Louisiana identifies a lot of difficult decisions for states to navigate in responding to COVID-19. None of these difficult decisions Paxton or Abbott have made, by the way—Texas remains one of a handful of states without a stay-at-home order as part of its response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

If conservative lawmakers were really concerned with effectively addressing the worst public health crisis this country has faced in at least a generation, they would drop this latest attack on abortion rights, they would rescind the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) pending before the Supreme Court, and they would ease the myriad of barriers already in place for accessing abortion care.

Instead, Republicans are doing what they always do: exploiting a moment of crisis for political gain. Louisiana’s brief opens by citing the possibility of 2 million people dying in this country from COVID-19 without a hint of irony. There’s no mention of the Mardi Gras festivities that continued in the face of the spreading threat. There’s not a word of the ongoing conservative attacks on the ACA and exacerbating the effect those attacks have on the public health crisis. 

Ultimately, what is so dangerous about the COVID-19 fight and abortion is that like the virus itself: It has happened in this country at exactly the worst time. Republicans have spent the past three years stacking the federal courts with ideologues willing to entrain any bad faith argument designed to overturn Roe. And conservatives have found a whole new crop of bad faith arguments in the COVID-19 pandemic to do so. 

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2020/04/03/covid-19-could-bring-the-end-of-roe-v-wade/