Abortion providers in Ohio say they are still open for business, still performing abortions, and still providing care for patients in their communities after an order to stop 'non-essential' surgeries last week.
"Abortion is an essential and time sensitive procedure," said Iris Harvey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, "we are in compliance."
No more elective surgeries
On Wednesday March 18, the Ohio Department of Health ordered that "all non-essential or elective surgeries" be stopped in an effort to preserve personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and gowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The health department said "a non-essential surgery is a procedure that can be delayed with undue risk to the current or future health of a patient."
Examples of criteria to consider include:
- Threat to patient's life if surgery or procedure is not performed
- Threat of permanent dysfunction of an extremity or organ system
- Risk of metastasis or progression of staging; or
- Risk of rapidly worsening to severe symptoms (time sensitive)
AG sends letters to abortion providers
Just two days later, the Attorney General Dave Yost's office said it was forwarded complaints that abortion clinics weren't complying with the non-essential surgery order.
On Friday March 20, the Attorney General sent letters to the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and the Women's Medical Center in Dayton ordering they "stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions."
The letters went on to say, "Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient."
The letter then threatened unspecified action, "If you or your facility do not immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical abortions in compliance with the attached order, the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures."
Essential or Non-Essential?
"I don't think there is a 'non-essential' abortion," said Harvey.
At their daily briefings, Governor DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton have been pressed by reporters to clarify which abortion procedures would be determined "essential" and which would be considered 'non-essential'.
Neither the Governor nor Dr. Acton would answer those questions but referred them to the Attorney General, who declined our request for an interview.
In an email, the AG's communications director Bethany McCorkle wrote News 5: "As our client, if Dr. Acton’s office determines that her order was violated by any surgical facility in Ohio, they can refer it to our office to pursue legal action on behalf of the Ohio Department of Health. We cannot provide legal interpretations of her order."
On Saturday March 21, the Attorney General also sent a letter to stop elective surgeries to the Urology Group in Cincinnati.
McCorkle also wrote, "This is not an abortion issue. A letter was also sent to a urology group that was allegedly performing elective surgeries."
State Senator Nickie Antonio, a Democrat who represents the west side of Cleveland and its suburbs, disagrees.
“I was so appalled at the vehemence of the order,” said Antonio.
“I put the total focus of this whole interpretation of the original order on Attorney General Yost,” she said. “To selectively, just to focus on clinics that provide abortion care, put it into a political nature.”
Now is not the time “to politicize anything,” she said.
Antonio said she has spoken with abortion care providers about the order to halt elective surgeries.
“These clinics are in full compliance with the governor’s orders,” she said. “The misnomer was that somehow they weren’t.”
She also said it is critical women continue to have access to health care, including abortion services, during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Not only is it essential, it’s also time-sensitive,’ she said, due to Ohio’s restrictions on abortions services.
“The AG (attorney general) should not practice medicine without a license,” said Antonio. “It is not his job to identify what is essential for women’s reproductive health care.
”He should just stay in his lane,” she said.