Coronavirus is hindering access to reproductive health care

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Sadly, the COVID-19 global pandemic is exposing how quick many politicians are to forget or dismiss women’s rights and health care. We all know abortion access is under attack, but it is particularly galling to see how legislators are trying to use the coronavirus to control whether women will be able to get an abortion in their state.

Politicians who oppose abortion rights are wasting no time banning abortion as they see fit. Texas and Ohio are halting abortion procedures. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared a statewide order to “curb the use of medical supplies hospitals will need as they prepare for escalating infections.” 

To be clear, this crisis has exposed the weaknesses in our health care system that we have long been fighting to remedy. It is absolutely a time of uncertainty. But it is also a time in which women continue to need health care and abortion is an essential part of reproductive health care. 

Could you imagine your birth control failing at a time like this? Could you imagine being the sole provider for your household and having your hours cut, or worse, being laid-off?

Seventy percent of our patients are already parents, significantly higher than the national rate of 59 percent. The number one reason our patients choose abortion is that they want to be good parents and be financially able to care for their children. 

These are not easy decisions. Women must have the right to decide for themselves, with their doctors and without governmental interference. 

I am facing tough decisions on how we will staff our clinics during the time of the coronavirus. Physician recruitment has always been a challenge because of the harassment and threats we receive therefore we fly our doctors into Kansas and Oklahoma to provide care. Unfortunately, this public health crisis has made transportation difficult and the availability of commercial flights is uncertain. 

It is not a time to turn our backs on women who need abortion care. Instead, it would be an ideal time for states to recognize that abortion via medication can be safely administered through telemedicine, and lift bans on tele-medicine for abortion providers. 

Texas and Kansas lifted restrictions on telemedicine over the weekend, but the rule changes did not apply to abortions. Lifting the ban could help keep patient-staff contact to a minimum and decrease potential exposure to this deadly virus.

This is not a time to sit and wait; this is a time to ask our lawmakers to step up. Reproductive health and justice advocates have been fighting tooth and nail this year for more access, more support, and fewer legal restrictions on women’s health care. There is no better time to be more understanding and compassionate than now.

As other reproductive health care facilities limit availability and service in response to the pandemic, my commitment, Trust Women’s commitment, is that our clinics will remain open. Abortion is a time-sensitive concern. Delaying weeks, even days can make it inaccessible. We are taking precautions outlined by the CDC and WHO for keeping our clinics sanitized and no matter what, we will continue to fight and we will persevere.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their health care. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.

Tags Abortion Coronavirus COVID-19 Reproductive health Reproductive justice Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt

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