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State Officials Battle Over Abortion During Medical Supply Shortage

State officials in Kentucky and Oklahoma are among a growing number of Republican officials who say abortion is a nonessential procedure that should be put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt have joined the list of officials calling for a suspension of most abortions in their states as part of a larger effort to help free up protective equipment for healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

In a statement, Cameron said abortion providers "should join the thousands of other medical professionals across the state in ceasing elective procedures, unless the life of the mother is at risk."

Reproductive health groups say abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure that should not be delayed, and that doing so can jeopardize the health and well-being of pregnant women.

There's a growing push by groups opposed to abortion rights to require clinics to suspend the procedure. Earlier this week, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of abortion providers in the state, challenging such an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton. Officials in other states, including Ohio and Mississippi, have issued similar directives.

Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said she's assembling a coalition of state attorneys general who support abortion rights to submit an amicus brief on the abortion providers' behalf.

"We will not allow any government agency or government official to use the coronavirus as an excuse to limit a woman's reproductive freedom," James said in an interview with NPR.

"Abortion is not an elective procedure...and should be available to any person who chooses to exercise that right."

The Democratic Attorneys General Association also put out a statement supporting access to abortion during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.