Abortion providers in Texas are suing state officials for banning abortions as part of their effort to halt procedures that are "not immediately medically necessary" during the coronavirus outbreak.
Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the lawsuit was filed because Gov. Greg Abbott is "exploiting the COVID-19" pandemic to block access to abortions in the state.
"This is a cruel and irresponsible use of state power in a time of great uncertainty," Johnson said.
Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center in Dallas, said the order will disproportionately affect women of color and low-income women in the state – many of whom were already facing obstacles to getting health care.
"We are talking about people who are low-wage workers – and many who may have already lost their jobs because of COVID-19," Jones said. "We cannot allow people to use a national, a global, health crisis to force women into making choices that are not good for them or their families."
Providers say they have been asking Texas officials to clarify whether the order applies only to surgical procedures and not medication abortions, which involve taking pills.
Amy Hagstrom-Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health and Whole Woman's Health Alliance, said her clinics were forced to cancel all abortion appointments because they haven't received an answer.
More than 150 appointments were canceled just this week, she said.
"They listened to patients sobbing and witnessed their feelings of helplessness," she said. "Sometimes even resorting to begging for the abortion they needed."
During an online event with anti-abortion activists Wednesday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised Abbott, who said the order does apply to abortions. Ultimately, he said, the order was "designed to protect hospitals."
"The truth is abortion – for the most part – is an elective procedure that can be done later," Paxton said.
But Hagstrom-Miller pointed out abortion is a "time-sensitive service."
"Access to care cannot be delayed," she said. "Forcing someone to wait four to six weeks may make abortion no longer an option."
This story originally appeared on KUT.