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Pandemic Abortion: The Challenge of Getting an Abortion During COVID-19



When Fiona Earnhart * from Philadelphia discovered she was pregnant in March, the 31-year-old became anxious. Although she is married and wants to have children one day, she was in the middle of looking for a job and couldn’t imagine looking for work while pregnant. Another complication loomed: the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that sparked a global health crisis. Earnhart made her decision. She was going to have an abortion.

It cannot be denied that reproductive rights in this country have always been at risk. Ever since the US Supreme Court recognized safe and legal abortion as a constitutional right in 1973, anti-abortion politicians have challenged that right. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 32 states enacted 394 new abortion restrictions between 201

1 and 2017. Despite these restrictions, people continue to seek abortions. In 2017, doctors in the U.S. performed 862,320 abortions, according to the latest national data on abortion incidence from the Guttmacher Institute.

The effects of the coronavirus on access to abortion have been many. People searching for an abortion during this crisis often face legitimate fears of catching the virus while trying to get medical attention. In addition, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for some anti-abortion government officials to try to strategically enforce additional restrictions on reproductive rights.

Government officials in states like Texas, Ohio, Arkansas, and Iowa have restricted or banned abortion in various locations during the pandemic, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In April, for example, a Texas federal appeals court temporarily banned abortion as part of the state’s coronavirus response, stating the process was “not material.” Also at the start of the pandemic, Ohio federal courts restricted surgical abortions and allowed patients access to abortion medication (also known as the abortion pill), often used when people are 10 weeks or less into pregnancy. While these types of bans are no longer in place, according to the Guttmacher Institute, they have for a while further complicated the already complex process of abortion in the United States.

As a result, when their state restricted access to abortion during the pandemic, some people trying to terminate their pregnancies had to take additional, burdensome measures to receive this care and frequently traveled out of state to clinics.

“Crossing state lines to get abortion care is always an added hurdle and difficulty,” Tam Nickerson, director of clinical operations at Preterm in Ohio, told SELF.

Even before the pandemic, getting an abortion in Ohio was more exhausting than it should have been. “Ohio has made it especially difficult to get access to abortion care in our state by passing medically unnecessary laws that require patients to wait, receive medically inaccurate information, and doctors overcome barriers unrelated to medical care,” says Nickerson. Then came the pandemic’s temporary but still damaging legal restrictions.

In late March, a federal court issued an injunction to abortion providers in Ohio, including Preterm, allowing them to continue performing abortions during the pandemic. According to Vanessa Arenas, assistant director at Preterm, “the state used the pandemic as an attack on abortion care.”

In the state of Tennessee, where abortion access was attacked before the pandemic, COVID-19 is only adding to the frustration of abortion advocates.

“There’s a lot more fear of having access to medical care,” Katy Leopard, director of foreign affairs at CHOICES – Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, told SELF. “This applies not only to abortion services, but also to our midwifery and birth services.” In various places, people were so scared that the clinic would close that the center’s call volume increased significantly because patients asked if they were still open, says Leopard.


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