New York City, US
Thomson Reuters Foundation

The US states of Texas and Ohio have ordered abortions be postponed as non-essential procedures to free up resources to fight coronavirus, a move critics said on Tuesday was political. 

Officials in the two states, which already have severe restrictions on abortions, said postponing elective procedures would allow beds and staff to be focused on coronavirus cases.

US Texas sonogram

A patient from Texas holds a sonogram that she received at the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, US, on 13th February. PICTURE: Reuters/Lila Engelbrecht/File Photo

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the nation's coronavirus task force, asked the nation's hospitals last week to cease elective surgeries to free up capacity and staff, amid dire shortages of masks and gloves.

Texas officials said the measure would apply to abortions that were not necessary to save the mother's life or health.

"No one is exempt from the governor's executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers," said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement.

Ohio's Attorney General told facilities to stop performing abortions that require personal protective equipment, such as gowns and masks, according to documents obtained by local media.

The United States has reported some 50,000 coronavirus cases, including almost 600 deaths, leading officials to order nearly a third of the population to stay home.

Abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in American society, with the Supreme Court due to rule in June on a major case which challenges a Louisiana law that could make it harder for women to obtain the procedure.

The anti-abortion group Americans United for Life told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments on Tuesday that Ohio and Texas were "doing the right thing".

"The sheer selfishness on display by abortionists refusing to close shop even for a brief time to funnel every possible resource to the brave medical providers...is simply unconscionable," said AUL's head Catherine Glenn Foster.

Several professional obstetric and gynecological groups have said delays to abortions could be risky.

"It's essential that people seeking abortion can make time-sensitive decisions about their care and have access to providers without politicised interference," said Heather Shumaker of the National Women's Law Center, a rights group. 

Abortions in the United States are usually performed in outpatient settings or at home using drugs to end pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group.