How Anti-Abortion Activists Capitalized on COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, anti-abortion activists and state legislatures have used COVID as a way to ban abortions across the country, including here in Louisiana. Many states who had been fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade were quick to close abortion clinics as nonessential during coronavirus shutdowns, even though abortion is considered healthcare.

At the same time, the pandemic has increased the demand for abortion services, particularly telemedicine abortion. This combines medication abortion, which uses a simple pill, and telemedicine, which allows healthcare providers to supervise the procedure safely and remotely.

Louisiana’s three abortion clinics joined together to sue the state in April 2020, noting that politicians in Louisiana had been trying for decades to end abortion access in the state. Under early restrictions, the state targeted abortion clinics by interpreting a Louisiana Department of Health directive limiting non-emergency medical procedures to mean abortion clinics should close, in spite of a provision in the directive noting patients whose health would be undermined by waiting should be excluded. Because abortions are only legal up to 20 weeks in Louisiana, except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger or her physical health is severely compromised, waiting for an abortion would mean most women would not have any legal access.

Thanks to a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, this made abortion essentially unobtainable in the state. The Supreme Court struck down that law in June 2020, but that was too late for some women who had by then passed the 20th week of their pregnancy. And it wasn’t just Louisiana – 17 other states banned access to teleabortions as well.

“Our challenge since the pandemic began has primarily been keeping our doors open,” Kathaleen Pittman, who runs Hope Medical Group for Women, told Fast Company. “We did have a bit of a battle with state officials early on, when we initially received the closure orders for a lot of non-critical facilities. There was a lot of pushback from state legislators; the attorney general did everything he could think of, even [sending] a team of investigators in on us to try to get us to defer patients until later on. But time is of the essence when you have an unplanned pregnancy.”

According to Pittman, the passage of Amendment 1, which would completely ban abortions in Louisiana should Roe vs Wade be overturned only made women more desperate. “People were so frightened and concerned,” she said. “I literally had my assistant administrator crying on the phone with one caller. When you provide abortion care in Louisiana, there’s always some battle.”

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