Oklahoma stops most abortions amid coronavirus spread

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Gov. Kevin Stitt.  DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Gov. Kevin Stitt has placed a moratorium on most abortions in the state, saying that hospital resources and personal protective gear need to be saved to fight COVID-19.

A statement Stitt issued Friday sought to clarify an executive order that put a two-week suspension on all elective and nonessential surgeries, as well as minor and non-emergency dental procedures. Stitt said the ban did not extend to abortions in which the mother’s life was in danger. 

Abortions “which are not a medical emergency … or otherwise necessary to prevent serious health risks to the unborn child’s mother are included in that Executive Order,” the press release said.

“We must ensure that our health care professionals, first responders and medical facilities have all of the resources they need to combat COVID-19,” Stitt said in the press release. “I am committed to doing whatever necessary to protect those who are on the front lines fighting against this virus.”

Priya Desai, a volunteer with Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said abortions should be considered essential health care, and that the majority of abortions are performed in clinics and not hospitals. She said state officials are using the pandemic as an excuse to “shutter abortion access.” 

The state’s suspension of abortion, which is set to expire on April 7, follows other states that recently passed down similar policies amid the pandemic, such as Texas and Ohio.

Ohio’s attorney general last week ordered clinics to stop abortions under a state-wide measure aimed to conserve health resources. And earlier this week, the Texas attorney general adopted a similar policy, stating abortions should not be considered essential unless the mother’s life was in danger.

On Wednesday, Texas providers sued the state over the order, arguing it was an exploitation of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Desai said because of Texas’ suspension on abortions, Oklahoma clinics have seen an influx of patients from the state. 

UltraViolet, a national women’s rights advocacy group, criticized some states’ suspensions on abortion in a press release on Friday afternoon.

“Make no mistake, no legitimate scientific body, including the World Health Organization that has been guiding the successful coronavirus response programs in other countries, recommends these restrictions – and responsible Governors across the country in states as diverse as New York, Kansas, Massachussets and Washington, have listened to the experts and safeguarded abortion as an an essential medical service,” the release stated. 

When Stitt announced the order on Tuesday a reporter asked him if abortions were included. He deferred the question to Dr. Kayse Shrum, Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Innovation, who said the details weren’t yet known.

Under Oklahoma law, a doctor determines what is a medical emergency.

The order also suspends “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures such as orthopedic surgeries,” according to Friday’s press release.

As COVID-19 cases surge, state issues sweeping order closing many nonessential businesses

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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