Playing Politics with Essential Health Care: Abortion Access in Ohio during the COVID-19 Pandemic


Woman in a medical office


National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) is recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) as a time to remind women and girls that they are in control of their health journey. OWH launched NWHW in 2000 to empower women to make health a priority. This year, the annual weeklong observance is May 10th-16th falling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rapid spread of coronavirus has changed a lot of things within our communities and our daily lives. The uncertainty that it has brought emphasizes the importance of prioritizing our physical and mental health. This is a time when frontline health care workers should be supported and health care, including reproductive health care, be made more accessible. However, anti-abortion activists across the country have taken advantage of the public health crisis in order to push their political agendas. It isn’t surprising that elected officials in Ohio followed suit and attempted to use COVID-19 as a way to prevent people from seeking abortion care. In Ohio, reproductive rights have been – and continue to be – under attack. Examples of this are present in legislative efforts attempting to ban or restrict abortions, implement trap laws, and restrict insurance companies from providing reproductive health care. Such restrictions have already created substantial barriers for Ohioans to obtain abortion procedures and other forms of reproductive health care and led to confusion around what services are even available. The pandemic only makes it all more of an uphill battle.

The Ohio Department of Health threatened access to abortion care yet again when they issued an order on March 17th. This order was bolstered by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s intimidation tactics through direct outreach to abortion providers. On March 30th, Ohio abortion providers — represented by the ACLU, the ACLU of Ohio, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and local attorneys – took emergency legal action to ensure that they could remain open to provide time-sensitive, essential abortion care to patients. Just hours later, the court granted the request for a temporary restraining order to allow abortion procedures to continue for the time being. In late April, a federal court extended relief for Ohio patients by granting a preliminary injunction, which will continue to block the Ohio Department of Health from using its COVID-19 order to ban abortion access. This ruling means that Ohio patients can continue to access abortion services throughout the state. 

Therefore, abortion is still legal in Ohio.

Ohio politicians’ attacks on abortion providers is not grounded in science or public health. Experts including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology agree that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure that cannot be delayed. The groups note that postponing this care could “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.” The b. Additionally, the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a statement in support of continued access to abortion care and explained that physicians, not politicians, should decide what procedures are time-sensitive in partnership with their patients. As the scientific community responds to COVID-19, pregnant people must have available to them the full range of health services and accurate information to make their own decisions about pregnancy and parenting.

The fact that NWHW is occurring during a public health crisis sets the stage for conversations to center on the need for expanded access to reproductive health care and the protection of necessary services. Reproductive freedom is a crucial part of that discussion as well. It’s not only about channeling our efforts to secure abortion care, but also ensuring equitable access to birth control, family planning information and counseling, and paid family leave.

Reproductive autonomy is an issue of public health. Every Ohioan should be in control of their health journey. When someone decides to have an abortion, it shouldn’t compromise their health and safety. Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care and access must be continue to be protected during and after the pandemic.

Add your voice to the growing chorus and tell Attorney General Dave Yost to stop playing politics with access to abortion care. Sign the petition!

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