Elsewhere in the country, the Covid-19 pandemic has ignited a new battle over abortion rights, with states such as Texas and Ohio attempting to temporarily ban the procedure as non-essential. In Washington, however, coronavirus has not threatened access to abortion—which has been deemed essential in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Not only that, clinics here are taking extra steps, including scaling back other services, to ensure women can continue to safely access the procedure.
Laura Meyers, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC, says her three local health centers are, for now, only allowing patients with time-sensitive needs to make in-person appointments: “Things like treating IUDs that are problematic, symptomatic visits [such as treating sexually transmitted infections], and abortion care.”
Clients can otherwise schedule remote Telehealth appointments, while prescriptions for oral contraception are available through the Planned Parenthood Direct app. The measures are, of course, an effort to enforce social distancing, and keep staff healthy and able to treat the patients most in-need. But Meyers says they’re also necessary so that Planned Parenthood’s limited supply of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, doesn’t run out.
“We’re seeing the same shortages of PPE. Our team reviews a spreadsheet every day of how many days’ worth of particular kinds we have on hand,” she says. “Frankly, it’s a complete outrage.”
Meghan Faulkner, co-director of case management at the DC Abortion Fund, which helps underprivileged women pay for the procedure, is in touch with clinics throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia. She says all are operating largely as usual, but that even though access to abortion here has not been affected, the women contacting her organization are worried.
“The biggest change we’ve seen so far is that a lot of people are very nervous—even people who are very early in their pregnancy—about possibly needing to delay, and what that could mean,” she says. “They’re not sure if the clinic will be open in two weeks, in case the clinic staff gets sick.”
Faulkner reports one other change, too: she says “a huge number of callers” are now unemployed because of Covid-19’s impact on the economy.