Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday that it is his “hope and expectation” that abortion clinics would cancel elective procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lee issued an executive order Monday that requires all hospitals and surgical outpatient facilities to cancel or postpone all “non-essential procedures” through April 13. The intent of the order is to free up personal protective equipment for health care professionals on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
His executive order asks “non-hospital health care providers,” such as abortion facilities, to deliver any personal protective equipment in their possession to the nearest Tennessee National Guard Armory.
“Our health center staff are working to provide health care in challenging times every single day and in times like this it is even more crucial. Patients need access to sexual and reproductive health care every day regardless of what else is going on in the world and in their lives. Many times disasters actually increase the need for our services,” Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi said in a recent statement posted to Facebook.
According to the Associated Press, the organization declined to comment on Gov. Lee’s executive order.
“The intent of this Executive Order is to gain greater access to personal protective equipment,” Lee’s office said in a statement provided to the outlet. “Gov. Lee believes elective abortions aren’t essential procedures and given the state of PPE in Tennessee and across the country his hope and expectation would be that those procedures not take place during this crisis.”
Lee’s executive order does not specifically mention abortion or penalties for noncompliance, leaving some room for interpretation as to whether abortion falls under the category of “non-essential.”
Planned Parenthood officials in Ohio are continuing to schedule surgical abortions because they are “essential procedures,” The Ohio Star reported.
As of Wednesday, Tennessee had 784 confirmed COVID-19 cases, three deaths, and 53 hospitalizations, according to the Department of Health.
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