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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2020, file photo, Executive Director Chrisse France talks about Preterm, the busiest abortion clinic in Ohio, in the procedure room in Cleveland. The governor and attorney general of Texas are moving to ban most abortions in the state during the coronavirus outbreak, declaring they don't qualify as essential surgeries. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

AUSTIN, Texas -- The governor and attorney general of Texas are moving to ban most abortions in the state during the coronavirus outbreak, declaring they don't qualify as essential surgeries.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday that the order issued over the weekend by Gov. Greg Abbott barred "any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother."

Failure to comply with the order can result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time, Paxton said.

"No one is exempt from the governor's executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers," Paxton said. "Those who violate the governor's order will be met with the full force of the law."

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The issue also has flared in Ohio, where abortion clinics received letters Friday from Republican Attorney General Dave Yost ordering them to cease all "nonessential" surgical abortions. Yost wrote that the procedures violate a March 17 order issued by the state health director.

However, representatives of Ohio clinics said that they were in compliance with the health director's order and planned to continue providing abortions.

Amid the moves by Ohio and Texas, a coalition of anti-abortion groups urged its allies across the nation to ask governors to ban most abortions on the grounds they were not essential.

"If abortion is a 'choice' then abortion is an elective procedure," said Mark Harrington, president of the anti-abortion group Created Equal.

Abortion-rights leaders nationwide decried the tactic, saying it was an affront to women grappling with difficult decisions amid the disruptions of the pandemic.

"Abortion is time-sensitive, essential health care," said Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, president of the National Abortion Federation. "Women deserve better than a craven exploitation of a health care crisis in furtherance of an anti-abortion agenda."

In Ohio, abortion clinics planned to remain in operation.

Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the Women's Med Center of Dayton, said the clinic had already taken steps to minimize the use of personal protective equipment -- one of the issues raised in the state's order.

The chief executive officers of two Planned Parenthood affiliates in Ohio said their clinics also were in compliance, having cut back on the use of equipment that is in short supply.

Cleveland-based Preterm, the busiest abortion clinic in Ohio, is not open on Mondays but said it was continuing to take appointments for later in the week.

Bethany McCorkle, a spokesman for Yost, said the orders sent to three abortion clinic operators weren't politically motivated, but rather, were due to complaints from the public. She said they were similar to orders sent to a urology practice.

In Texas, Planned Parenthood did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the order from Abbott, but it was hailed by anti-abortion activists.

"The abortion industry has been consuming and hoarding medical supplies that are in desperate need around the state including masks, gloves, and other protective gear for medical professionals," said Texas Right to Life.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, called on abortion clinics nationwide to temporarily halt abortion services.

"Abortion clinics conducting business as usual in the presence of a life-threatening disease shows just how callous pro-abortion groups and abortionists are to protecting life at any stage," said Tobias.

Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, director of state media campaigns for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Planned Parenthood clinics were intent on remaining in operation.

"While public health providers work together in our communities to care for patients whose health care can't wait, some anti-abortion activists are exploiting the covid-19 pandemic to push their ideological agenda," she said. "This is not a time to play politics."

There were no immediate reports of other states planning to target abortion clinics with restrictions related to covid-19, even in Republican-governed states that have been active in passing anti-abortion legislation in recent years.

Information for this article was contributed by Sudhin Thanawala, Emily Wagster Pettus, Gary Robertson, and Keith Ridler of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/24/2020

Print Headline: Drive to ban abortions amid crisis grows

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