NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s “hope and expectation” is that there will be no “elective” abortions performed in the state under an executive order that bars non-essential medical procedures to free up protective equipment for hospitals treating the coronavirus, his spokesman said Wednesday.
Officials in Ohio, Mississippi and Texas have likewise interpreted executive orders that limit non-essential medical procedures to bar many abortions.
“The intent of this Executive Order is to gain greater access to (personal protective equipment),” Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said in a statement. “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, a Republican, on Monday ordered a halt to non-emergency dental work and nonessential hospital and surgical outpatient procedures, but the order did not specifically mention abortion. The order is effective until April 13. It does not specify penalties for noncompliance.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office stands “ready to defend the actions of the executive branch in enforcing Executive Order 18,” spokeswoman Samantha Fisher said in a statement.
The order defines a non-essential procedure as one “that is not necessary to address a medical emergency or to preserve the health and safety of a patient, as determined by a licensed medical provider.”
Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi declined to comment through a spokesman.
Lee has made one of his legislative priorities this year a bill that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That’s about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.
On Wednesday, the state reported more than 780 cases of the virus, and the death total increased from two to three.
Additionally, TSA confirmed one of its officers who last worked a checkpoint at Nashville International Airport on March 18 has tested positive for COVID-19. The airport closed its north security checkpoint entrance until further notice, but did not say if it was due to the TSA worker testing positive.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.