Gov. Reynolds is attempting to ban surgical abortions as ‘nonessential’ medical procedures during COVID-19 crisis

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Demonstrators gather on the University of Iowa Pentacrest for a pro-choice rally on Friday, May 17, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

On Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an emergency proclamation that, among other things, banned all “nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures that utilize personal protective equipment” for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency in the state. On Friday, the governor’s spokesperson told Barbara Rodriguez of the Des Moines Register that ban includes surgical abortions.

In response to questions from Rodriguez, the governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett replied by email with a single sentence: “Proclamation suspends all nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures until April 16th, that includes surgical abortion procedures.”

Abortion isn’t mentioned in the text of the proclamation, which defines a nonessential procedure as “one that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient, considering all appropriate factors including, but not limited to any: (1) threat to the patient’s life if the surgery or procedure is not performed; (2) threat of permanent dysfunction of an extremity or organ system; (3) risk of metastasis or progression of staging; and (4) risk of rapidly worsening to severe symptoms.”

It’s not surprising that Reynolds would attempt to use her expanded executive powers during the COVID-19 to sharply limit abortions. The governor has consistently said throughout her political career that ending abortion in the state is a top priority.

In May 2018, Reynolds signed the so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill, which would have given Iowa the most draconian anti-abortion laws in the country. “[S]he knows it’s unconstitutional,” State Rep. Mary Wolfe said at the time. In January 2019, a judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, and Reynolds decided not to appeal.

Earlier this year in her Condition of the State speech, Reynolds called for the Iowa Constitution to be amended to include anti-abortion language.

Since the text of Reynolds’ declaration states that doctors should consider “all appropriate factors” when deciding if a procedure is essential, it’s not clear how much impact the governor’s opinion regarding abortion will have.

According to a joint statement about access to abortion during the COVID-19 emergency released by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, the American Gynecological & Obstetrical Society, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Society for Academic Specialists in General Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Society of Family Planning, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, “Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”

In their statement, the eight groups state clearly they “do not support COVID-19 responses that cancel or delay abortion procedures. Community-based and hospital-based clinicians should consider collaboration to ensure abortion access is not compromised during this time.”

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