Coronavirus outbreak leads to abortion debate, opponents call for clinics to close

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Abortion has always been up for debate in Kentucky, but now, the coronavirus presents a new question also seen in Ohio, Mississippi and Texas – should abortions be allowed to continue when other procedures are on pause to ensure the state has enough medical equipment?

During his daily coronavirus update on Monday, Governor Andy Beshear said, “We’ve issued an executive order to cease all elective medical procedures. While I think there was some push back early on, I have seen everyone coming on board.”

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Friday, Attorney General Daniel Cameron says that order from the governor is why abortions need to stop at the state’s only two clinics, in Louisville.

He says it’s an elective procedure and a non-life sustaining business, all of which the governor has ordered an end to.

Family Foundation Executive Director Kent Ostrander says abortion clinics aren’t above any other medical facilities.

“It’s as though abortion is more important than the virus,” Ostrander says. “So anyone who is questioning why we’re raising it now, it should be turned around and ask why is the abortion clinic ignoring the governor’s counsel, and all other medical clinics are obeying it.”

Pro-choice supporters say it’s not about trying to be the exemption; it’s about responding quickly to a time sensitive matter, especially since the state bans abortions after 20 weeks.

ACLU Staff Attorney Heather Gatnarek says even newly pregnant women run the risk of developing complications the longer they have to wait for an abortion.

“We cannot, and absolutely should not, be forcing someone to remain pregnant and carry a pregnancy to term during this public health crisis,” Gatnarek says.

An alternative to surgical abortions, which must be done in person, are medical abortions, which could be done at home. Ostrander says that option would be the only safe one to provide at this time.

“That’s probably what would be the plumb line on whether the clinic could continue to do that or not,” Ostrander says.

But Gatnarek says Kentucky does not allow teleheath for any abortion care, which means people have to come into the clinic. Doctors have to take ultrasounds and narrate what they see, and they have to go over informed consent.

“Which is a shame because it really is one of the best ways for people to be able to access that care, but it would be up to the legislature to make statutory change, and they haven’t yet been willing to do that,” says Gatnarek.

Beshear, in his daily coronavirus briefing Thursday, said focusing on abortion legislation during this pandemic isn’t productive and only causes more concern for Kentuckians.