In mid-March, most of the country was under a stay-at-home mandate. Governors across the U.S. ordered the majority of businesses to close, and that included putting a hold on non-essential surgical and elective procedures to reserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors assisting patients with the coronavirus. For some Republican governors, including in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas, that included abortions. Violators in Texas faced prison time and a $1,000 fine. On April 17, Abbott lifted the ban on non-essential surgical and elective procedures, which meant that people could conduct their medical services starting on April 22, but his order did not include abortions.
Less than a month since Abbott issued a shutdown in Texas, medical workers at Planned Parenthoods in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada report they have seen a 706% increase in patients from Texas. Between March 23 and April 14, these clinics had 129 patients from Texas, compared to February, when they only had 16 from Texas, NPR reports.
"It clearly shows that when individuals aren't able to access abortion care in their own state, they will travel — or at least the patients who have the means to travel will travel," Dr. Kristina Tocce, medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told NPR.
The travel issue then becomes problematic. Patients who are forced to travel and leave their home risk coming into contact with COVID-19 or possibly contaminating others because they're making multiple stops along their route. They then risk bringing the virus back to Texas.
To complicate matters even more for women when time is of the essence is the issue over whether doctors will be able to conduct abortions in Texas, which is constantly changing.
On March 25, the fight between Planned Parenthood and Abbott began when Texas abortion providers filed an emergency lawsuit to ensure that patients could continue to access essential, time-sensitive abortion services. Weeks later, the battle rages on in the court system. On April 15, Planned Parenthood got a bit of good news when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals backed down from its stay of a lower court's temporary restraining order that had protected access to medication abortions under Abbott's COVID-19 order. So for now, this means medical abortions — a two-pill process — will once again be available in Texas. But of course, it could all change.
"It has become a day by day, week to week fight for people whose health care cannot wait," Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a released statement. "Planned Parenthood and its partners have never wavered in the facts: abortion is safe, necessary, and time-sensitive. While this is a very temporary relief for some Texans, many others still cannot access time-sensitive abortion procedures. As people try and navigate their new realities under a pandemic — job loss, quarantining with abusive partners, or still having to work essential jobs — we need more abortion access, not less. This fight is far from over."
For anyone seeking sexual health care, Planned Parenthood announced this week that they would be providing services by phone or video to patients in all 50 states by the end of April.