As people shelter in place during the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of jokes are being made about the baby boom that will be coming in 9 months. That’s understandable. In times where we’re very concerned about death, joking is necessary and the idea of new life is something that can make people feel much more hopeful.
It gets less lighthearted when you realize that many of those pregnancies will not be wanted. But in a time when medical clinics, hospitals, and doctors are already compromised by an influx of coronavirus-afflicted patients, women are bound to have a hard time gaining access to standard reproductive healthcare — and that’s just fine with some lawmakers.
Republicans are using this pandemic as an excuse to, among other things, bar women from reproductive choice. As medical facilities in many states cease performing what are termed inessential procedures (say, for instance, cosmetic surgery) in order to conserve supplies, some members of the GOP are attempting to exploit the situation and effectively ban abortion.
In Ohio, the Deputy Attorney General John Fulkerson wrote to clinics: "You and your facility are ordered to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions." If you’re wondering what non-essential abortions are, his letter clarified: “Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.”
Fulkerson perhaps does not realize that pregnancy and childbirth always endanger women’s health. Every day, 830 women die due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. The U.S.’s maternal mortality rate is also notably bad — we rank 55th in world, only slightly ahead of Ukraine. As our hospitals and their staff become increasingly overwhelmed with coronavirus patients — a virtual inevitability at this point — it seems unlikely our maternal mortality rate will improve. If Fulkerson and his ilk were actually pro-life, they’d be concerned about the fact that women keep dying as a result of pregnancy — but then, I suppose fetuses don’t use such shrill unpleasant voices as they demand their basic rights to healthcare.
Beyond the inherent misogyny at play, Republicans are also showing an inability to grasp what is and what isn’t an essential medical procedure. As Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, a director at Planned Parenthood notes, “Obviously, abortion is an essential service because it is time sensitive in nature.”
Right. If you do not get an abortion, you may well get a baby. Apparently childbirth is not something that people are worried about overwhelming hospitals, in spite of the fact that 21 percent of births in the U.S. are now C-sections, a surgical procedure. Apparently medical professionals being overwhelmed is fine, as long as they’re engaging in childbirth and not abortion.
Fortunately, Planned Parenthood Ohio has issued a statement claiming that, “Planned Parenthood can still continue performing essential procedures, including surgical abortion.”
At least for now.
But Ohio’s de facto abortion ban is just one of what will doubtless be many attempts to use this disaster as a way to scale back women’s rights. Other states are already following Ohio’s lead.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered a ban on abortions in the state unless the life of the mother is threatened, and people who provide abortions can face up to 180 days in jail. When this is over, they may well just decide not to change that rule back, on the presumed basis that it will be working so well for people — at least, people who are not in need of abortions.
In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan was asked if abortion was considered an inessential procedure, and he replied, “They've got to free up beds for the things that are needed to save people's lives.” This despite the fact that abortions often do save the lives of the women seeking them.
On a more national scale, nearly as soon as this crisis began, Republicans have attempted to put anti-choice language into bills designed to address hardship following the COVID-19 outbreak, and allow for increased testing.Treating an abortion as though it is a frivolous procedure akin to deciding to a face lift and not something absolutely necessary is absurd.
All of this is happening at what is already a terrible time for many vulnerable women.
Mandatory waiting periods, which entail traveling for hours and staying overnight in many states where abortion clinics are difficult to access, make it nearly impossible to have an abortion at a time when we’re supposed to “shelter in place.” Groups like the Haven Coalition in New York, and the Midwest Access Coalition, which typically provide places for those traveling far distances for abortions to stay may find it far harder to do so as people are encouraged to avoid strangers, or, at least, not let them sleep over in their apartments.
And if women can’t access abortions, the reprecussions on their lives can be severe.
Studies have shown that, while having an abortion doesn’t result in harm to women’s mental health, being denied one does. It leads to a spike in issues like anxiety and depression.
And for women unable to access and abortion, that anxiety is often justified. Women comprise the majority of minimum wage earners in virtually every state. They’re likely to work in industries that are especially hard hard as we’re called to self isolate — for instance, 93 percent of domestic workers are women. An unwanted pregnancy is an added financial hardship that many women will not be able to tolerate right now. And, having an unwanted child after being denied an abortion quadruples the odds a mother and her new child will be forced to live below the poverty line. That seems like a terribly unfair hardship to inflict on women in what is likely to be a global recession.
Strange that many members of the GOP, who seem to feel it’s quite acceptable to sacrifice sentient human beings to keep the cruise ship industry afloat, don’t seem especially moved by female hardship. Perhaps if we more closely resembled a Carnival ship they’d take our needs more seriously.
But then, some people will say, why are those women having sex if they don’t want to get pregnant? First off, because sex is a pleasurable activity. Though, I have always sensed that the men who ask this question have never given a woman enough pleasure to recognize it as such. And, on the topic of terrible men, many women are now trapped in abusive situations. Domestic violence hotlines in places like Portland claim that the number of calls they receive has doubled since the Coronavirus outbreak began. If women are isolated with abusive men who do not respect their bodily autonomy, it will very likely result in some unwanted pregnancies.
If that doesn’t seem like something that’s important to focus on right now — well, I’d say that forcing women to bring unwanted children into the world in a time when they already have plenty of causes for stress and despair seems downright inhumane. To say that it’s not essential is to say that women’s wellbeing is inessential. And if we make the determination to dismiss women’s wellbeing now, what’s to say we’ll ever go back?
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the NHS website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.