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Alexis McGill Johnson on Abortion Ban During Coronavirus

How COVID-19 Is Giving Us a Frightening Preview of a Post-Roe World

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13:   Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board Chair Alexis McGill Johnson joins lawmakers to announce new legislation to protect a woman's right to abortion during a news conference in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. According to its sponsors, the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013 would

Abortion access was already in a fragile state at the start of 2020 — and then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Acting President of Planned Parenthood Alexis McGill Johnson told POPSUGAR that antichoice governors have moved quickly, seizing on this unprecedented moment of uncertainty to push their agenda forward. "A group of of governors in states that have been actively working to restrict abortion for many years are using the pandemic essentially as a cover to ban abortion outright through executive order," she explained, referencing states including Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and more that have deemed some or all abortion procedures "inessential" during COVID-19. "First of all," McGill Johnson told POPSUGAR, "abortion is time-sensitive. So that in itself makes it essential, not elective, because it requires [access] within a specific period of time."

McGill Johnson explained that this latest crop of dubious excuses to halt abortion access won't change the facts: executive orders can't make demand for reproductive care magically disappear. It's for that reason, she told POPSUGAR, that people need access to safe, legal abortions during COVID-19 — not a new onslaught of barriers. "Many women who are seeking abortion actually already have children," she explained, meaning the government is effectively stripping people of the "freedom to determine what's best for one's family" during a time of record-breaking unemployment and financial strain.

"We've seen people seek abortion driving dozens of hours from Texas to Colorado or Texas to California and back — in some cases, just for medication abortion, which is two pills that you take within 24 hours," McGill Johnson said. Forcing patients to travel long distances just to exercise their right to a medical procedure is "absolutely unconscionable," she told POPSUGAR, particularly during a pandemic. "If the charge is that [states] should ban abortion because of the pandemic, that we need to shelter in place and make sure that people are not traveling," shutting down clinics does nothing to achieve that goal.

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"I think what the pandemic is doing is actually accelerating a world that we're very concerned about," she said, one where states could "effectively, if not overturn, very seriously gut Roe." Even birth-control coverage is entering increasingly fraught territory during the coronavirus, with the Supreme Court hearing arguments over the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate in May. These attacks feel especially unjust now, when women — particularly nonwhite women — make up the majority of the population risking their health to continue working during COVID-19, according to The New York Times. "We're the essential workers," McGill Johnson said. "We're literally on the trains, we're the ones who are essential healthcare workers, and child-care workers, and education workers. Our bodies are essential — but we can't control them, right?"

If you are experiencing an unwanted pregnancy, you can contact Planned Parenthood here or call 1-800-230-PLAN. Locate your nearest open clinic by using Planned Parenthood's abortion care finder here. Enter your zip code, age, and the start date of your last period to determine next steps according to state laws.

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