Abortion rights activists were furious when Texas and Ohio included abortion on the list of “nonessential” surgeries and medical procedures that must be delayed during the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reports. 

According to The Times, both states said they made this decision in order to “preserve extremely precious protective equipment for health care workers and to make space for a potential flood of coronavirus patients.” Activists, however, argued abortion should be considered essential and patients don’t have time to wait until the pandemic is over. 

The Times reports on March 23:

Activists accused state leaders of using the coronavirus crisis to advance a political agenda to restrict abortions. They pointed out that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a respected society of medical professionals, recommended last week that abortion not be included in the list of medical procedures that could potentially be postponed.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday attempted to clarify Governor Greg Abbott’s weekend announcement by releasing a statement saying the postponement of medical procedures included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” The Times reports. Paxton said penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time would be imposed on anyone who failed to adhere to those rules. According to The Times, “it was not immediately clear if that included medication abortion, which involves providers administering pills in the earlier stages of pregnancy.”

Tara Pohlmeyer, Communications Manager at abortion rights group Progress Texas, told The Times that officials in Texas and Ohio are not focused on what’s really important. “Instead of trying to distract with ideology, state lawmakers should focus on prioritizing public health and safety measures,” she said. 

The Times says advocates and lawyers are now trying to determine whether or not abortion clinics would actually have to stop all abortion services. “We are still waiting for various legal teams and local providers to work through what it means,” said the Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President of the National Abortion Federation.

Reports The Times,

In Ohio, where anti-abortion activists have gained influence in recent years, health authorities issued an order to postpone all nonessential surgeries beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday. On Friday and Saturday, the office of the state’s attorney general sent warning letters to abortion clinics in Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland, telling them to “immediately stop performing nonessential and elective surgical abortions.”

Lawyers for several of the state’s abortion clinics made an urgent plea to Attorney General Dave Yost that abortions are essential surgical procedures and clinics have no intention of stopping. This battle represents “a new front in the fight over abortion rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States,” The Times reports.