May 26, 2020

The Cruel Exploitation of a Crisis

Guest Opinion
By Amy Kerr Hardin | April 25, 2020

Conservative forces are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to further erode women’s reproductive health rights.
 
Efforts in red states to link abortion services to the virus are putting women at risk. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ranks abortion as “essential” healthcare, yet Republican lawmakers are using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict access to legal abortions, with the claim that the highly time-sensitive procedure is “non-essential” care.
 
State lawmakers in Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas have ordered women’s health clinics to cease providing the legal procedure. The false rationale they employ is that the bans on abortion are necessary to free up critical care medical supplies needed to treat COVID-19 patients. These Republicans are conveniently ignoring the fact that most early abortions are in pill form and don’t require any specialized devices or personal protection equipment.
 
All of the states have had their restrictive laws struck down in the courts — with the exception of Texas, which got a judicial nod to continue with their cruel and misogynistic ban. The average distance a woman in the Lone Star state will now have to travel to seek out-of-state care is 243 miles. A violation of the ban comes with a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. The other states with abortion bans will force women to drive 100–200 miles to exercise their reproductive rights.  
 
Fifty-eight percent of American women of reproductive age live in the 29 states considered hostile to abortion rights. That’s 40 million women.
 
In Michigan, women continue to have safe and legal access to abortion — a decision that drew fire from anti-abortion-rights groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, which put out this statement: “Governor Whitmer should end these unnecessary procedures that further strain our healthcare system, and abortion businesses in the state should cooperate.”
 
This is nothing more than craven opportunism — and at the worst possible time.  
 
These same people who claim to care deeply about the health and well-being of others and the prevention of the squandering of precious medical resources are suing Michigan’s governor over her stay-at-home order because it prevents them from protesting outside the doors of women’s healthcare clinics.
 
The Guttmacher Institute, an international women’s reproductive health advocacy group, finds the attack on women’s rights appalling, saying “using the current health crisis to target abortion is a ruthless move that reveals just how far some politicians will go to limit reproductive freedom and autonomy.”
 
These bans aren’t the only hurdles placed in the path of women of reproductive age in the midst of the pandemic.
 
The United States Centers for Disease Control are encouraging Americans to have a 90-day supply of prescription drugs as a means of limiting visits to the pharmacy. Unfortunately, many health insurance companies still have a 30-day cap on drugs, including contraceptives. Because the responsibility for birth control usually falls on the female, many women will have to enter the pharmacy once a month — probably not a good idea during a pandemic. Some insurance companies have reluctantly changed their policy on a temporary basis.
 
Due to the uncertainty of the risk COVID-19 poses to pregnant women and newborns, couples are choosing to put off planned pregnancies, thereby creating a critical need for contraceptive protection and abortion services. Prenatal and postnatal exposure to the virus is a very real concern. The Guttmacher Institute reports that during the 2015–16 Zika epidemic, demand for contraceptives saw a significant spike.
 
The Trump Administration’s budget cuts and restrictive rules governing health-related programs are creating their own havoc. Women’s health clinics face a gag rule preventing them from talking about the abortion option under Title X federal funding restrictions. Guttmacher reports a 46 percent drop in available contraceptive services under Trump’s new rule.
 
Trump and his fellow Republicans have a history of attempting to deny women contraceptive care. In the past few years, they have issued rules designed to exempt employers from covering birth control on religious grounds, even though the Affordable Care Act has a provision requiring coverage.
 
Now Republicans are bent on striping that mandate from the ACA — potentially affecting 62 million American women who obtain their contraceptive coverage through the mandate.
 
Michigan’s Attorney General, Dana Nessel, has joined 21 other state attorneys general in filing an amicus brief with the United State’s Supreme Court in opposition to a case in Pennsylvania that is challenging the coverage requirement. Nessel said: “For millions of women across this country, contraception is a critical part of their health care. The Affordable Care Act provides for this preventative care, and employers shouldn’t get to substitute their interests in place of a doctor’s professional judgment. The federal government should look for ways to support and promote women, not create barriers that affect a woman’s health and well-being.”
 
Trump’s reckless political schemes designed to gut the Affordable Care Act, just when our nation needs it most, are putting millions of lives at risk, including women using prescription birth control and expectant mothers and infants.
 
That’s hardly “pro-life.”
 
Amy Kerr Hardin is a retired banker, regionally known artist, and public-policy wonk. You can hear and learn more about the state of Michigan politics on her podcast, www.MichiganPolicast.com.

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