How Access to Abortions During COVID-19 Has Changed
Though abortion is a hot topic in many political debates and religious communities, it feels innately personal for the woman making the difficult choice to end an unwanted pregnancy. Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, the decision and the experience are emotionally and physically stressful. When you add a global pandemic into the mix, it becomes an even more complicated procedure. Not only have some states outlawed abortions during COVID-19, but many doctors are unable to treat patients with limited resources.
Here, how this necessary segment of women’s health is being discriminated against even more right now. Plus: how you can seek and receive help if you need it.
At least seven states banned abortions during coronavirus outbreak
Unfortunately, it’s up to the state legislators’ discretion to determine what type of surgeries and procedures are deemed emergency (and thus, necessary) and which ones can be temporarily prohibited. According to the most recent data available, seven states have banned access to abortions. These include Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Primarily, this was instituted thanks to ‘emergency orders’ handed down by governors, who made very few exemptions.
There’s a significant shortage of personal protection equipment
Like any other medical experience, an abortion requires doctors to take appropriate health and safety measures to maintain clean and sanitary standards. However, author and award-winning OB-GYN Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., says many hospitals and offices are severely shortchanged on personal protection equipment, also known as PPE. This means even in the states where abortions can legally take place, a professional may not be able to perform one if they can’t locate masks, gloves, and other necessary coverings.
Doctors are advised to stop seeing patients, except for emergencies
Across the country—and even the world—doctors were advised to stop seeing patients unless it’s a medical emergency. Since most pre-abortion workups involve an examination, an ultrasound, and lab testing, Dr. Gersh says getting everything accomplished can be time-consuming and challenging right now. Though this is tricky with any procedure, it’s even more urgent with a timed event, like an abortion. Medical professionals can push through this obstacle and create social-distancing and health-monitoring procedures in their private practice. Still, with fewer hands on deck, it may mean treating fewer patients.
The ban on abortions in large states puts women at considerable risk
Although New England consists of a cluster of states within a few hours driving distances of one another, geography becomes a challenge when you head west and south. According to the most recent data, large states like Texas can implement physical distance barriers for women seeking abortions. As an example provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an American non-profit organization that focuses on health care issues, there are 23 abortion clinics in Texas. The average span between those is 260 miles, or what is typically at least a four-hour drive. This means even if a woman finds a doctor who will perform the procedure, she may need to take time off of work to do so. And run the risk of staying at a hotel or Airbnb in the middle of a pandemic. This is especially true if she’s in a later-term pregnancy, and needs a more invasive surgery. Generally speaking, patients aren’t advised to drive after receiving an abortion, which means a woman needs to bring someone with her, who would also need to take a vacation day. Those with significant means may be able to do this; others who work in hourly gigs may not have the luxury.
What about driving across state lines? This is a tactic used by many females whose states have limited abortion rights. In the south, where many governors are anti-abortion, it may be quite a journey before finding one that will assist you. Take, for instance, Louisiana, which has a mandatory 24 hour waiting period. When you add everything up, it becomes an expensive endeavor to make this fundamental choice.
Some states have protected access to abortion in their executive orders addressing COVID-19
It’s not all bad news, though, since some political leaders are protecting a woman’s right to choose. In Virginia, the legislation requiring women to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure and to receive counseling has been lifted. The state has also stopped requiring clinics that perform more than five abortions a year to designate themselves as hospitals, which in the past enforced many tax implications and strenuous protocols to follow.
New Jersey’s governor also ordered that access to family planning services—including the termination of pregnancies—will not be limited throughout the pandemic’s course. Washington’s governor said the same.
Abortion via telemedicine is becoming increasingly popular
Wait, what? Abortion at home? It’s been a trend over the past year, but now it’s skyrocketing amidst COVID-19. The program, appropriately called TelAbortion, currently serves 13 states. The founder of the program, Dr. Elizabeth Raymond, told The New York Times the team is working tirelessly to expand to other states as fas as possible to accommodate the higher demand. How does it work? First, you must quality by being in one of their listed states and also meet the following criteria:
- You are pregnant and you want a medical abortion.
- You can take the first abortion pill before you are 70 days (10 weeks) along.
- You do not have any of the following conditions that potentially could make a medical abortion unsafe for you:
- An intrauterine device (Paragard, Mirena, Skyla, Liletta, Kyleena) in your uterus right now.
- Any problem with your adrenal glands.
- Any medical condition that affects the ability of your blood to clot normally.
- Inherited porphyria (a genetic blood disease)
- An allergy to the abortion drugs
- You are not using certain medicines that could interfere with any medications administered during the abortion. These include anticoagulants (blood thinners) and steroids.
If you qualify, you’re sent a package with pills to take and detailed instructions. You will also have a video conference call before the session, as well as a follow-up, too. To date, they’ve had 611 completed abortions from home.
Dr. Gersh urges women to contact their OBGYN for advice on what available options exist in your area. If he or she is unable to assist you, she recommends reaching out to a Planned Parenthood and/or a Family Planning Associates group near you. And most importantly: remember you aren’t alone and that you will get through this painful stage.
Author Bio Lindsay Tigar is a travel and lifestyle journalist. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Vogue, USA Today and countless other publications. When she isn't collecting another passport stamp, she can be found scouring a city for the best coffee, going to a boxing class or falling in love with each stray dog she meets. A collection of her work can be found at LindsayTigar.com.