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COVID-19 Coverage

Abortions Not Among Medical Procedures Delayed in Arizona


By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Abortions remain available in Arizona despite the orders by Gov. Doug Ducey to halt all "non-essential or elective'' surgeries.

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, told Capitol Media Services the governor's March 19 executive order banning those procedures is written in a way to provide for exceptions.
One, he said, allows doctors to perform procedures that, if delayed, will endanger the patient. And Howard noted that the order effectively "deputizes the healthcare provider to make a determination in each case.''
Howard, however, won't say what procedures are still being done and which are being classified by Planned Parenthood as essential.
That interpretation apparently satisfies Ducey.
"The intention of the executive order is to reserve critical supplies like ventilators and personal protective equipment for essential surgeries and for healthcare workers responding to COVID-19,'' gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak said. "It's also intended to free up hospital capacity.''
More to the point, he said, the order does not reference specific surgeries.
"Instead, it allows licensed medical professional to use their best medical judgment in determining what surgery is essential or non-elective,'' he said.
What makes that stance important -- beyond the fact that Ducey has said he opposes abortion -- is that it comes as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is in federal court defending his own similar executive order.
Abbott's order has exceptions only for surgeries and procedures which are "immediately medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition ... or preserve the life of a patient'' who without immediate action, would be at risk of serious adverse medical consequences or death, as determined by the patient's physician.
Ducey's order has some similar language, saying that surgeries are not elective if delaying it would threaten the patient's life, lead to permanent dysfunction or impairment of any body part, or require the patient to remain hospitalized if the surgery was delayed.
But there's something else.
"A licensed medical professional shall use their best medical judgment in determining whether a surgery is non-essential or elective,'' Ducey's order reads.
Howard said that language is crucial.
"We are complying with the order,'' he said. "And we are providing guidance to our medical staff to evaluate each patient's case to determine if her care is elective or essential.''
And how does he draw the line?
"That's why we have licensed physicians on staff,'' Howard responded. "And neither you nor I are one.''
Howard said his organization is not picking a fight with the governor on this issue.
"We understand he is obviously concerned about preserving life-saving gear that's going to be needed for medical professionals throughout the next coming weeks and months,'' he said.
"We're cooperating with that,'' Howard said. "And we're asking our healthcare providers to evaluate each patient's case to determine the best course of action for her in the context of the governor's order.''
But Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, acknowledged that what Planned Parenthood is doing probably does not violate the governor's order. But she told Capitol Media Services that's not good enough.
"Daily we're hearing about a shortage of ventilators, personal protective equipment, masks, gloves, people foregoing surgeries, bans on elective surgeries,'' she said.
"Planned Parenthood is doing the opposite,'' Herrod continued. "There's no question that Planned Parenthood has personal protective equipment available.''
She said they should "give their gear to those who are fighting the virus.''
Herrod did not disagree that the general medical consensus is that the longer a women waits to terminate her pregnancy the more complicated and risk the procedure becomes. But she said there's an alternative.
"I would encourage women to have their babies and place their babies for adoption or decide to parent,'' Herrod said.
In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton is operating from the position that Abbott's order applies to "any type of abortion.
"The Texas Attorney General's enforcement threats are a blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda, without any benefit to the state in terms of preventing or resolving shortages of personal protective equipment or hospital capacity,'' attorneys for several Texas Planned Parenthood organizations argue in their own legal filings.
But Paxton, in his response, is telling a federal judge that "absent extraordinary measures, the Texas healthcare system could face the same systemic collapse now unfolding in other places.'' And, while acknowledging U.S. Spreme Court ruling affirming the right of women to terminate a pregnancy, Paxton said that's not what's happening here.
"Delay of a few weeks for public health reasons does not amount to a total denial,'' he wrote.
On Monday a federal judge granted an injunction sought by the challengers to Abbott's order. Paxton has vowed to appeal.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia