Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has claimed that Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, is attempting to obtain "special" protections for their own medical services so that they can make money during the coronavirus pandemic.
Paxton made the comments during an exclusive interview with Fox News Wednesday after a federal appeals panel allowed Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott's ban on elective procedures to remain in place.
Planned Parenthood, which brought the initial suit, maintains that abortions are "essential," while the state has argued that elective procedures could take needed resources away from combatting the coronavirus epidemic -- specifically by using up personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and gloves.
"The problem is that we just don't know what the resource drain is going to be," Paxton told Fox News. "In some states, it's growing ... the numbers are growing. So, it's impossible to know exactly when the right time to implement this policy is and when to stop it. All you can do is your best, and that's what the governor, I think, is trying to do."
"He's trying to save lives and Planned Parenthood is trying to make some money," Paxton added. "So, there's competing interests here -- dollars versus lives -- and I'm working with the governor to help save lives. Planned Parenthood is looking to make some money for doctors."
Paxton didn't cite any particular evidence for that claim but he echoed many pro-life advocates who have claimed the group prioritizes revenue over health care.
Planned Parenthood has consistently maintained that it is acting out of its patients' interests.
In a statement to Fox News Thursday, Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokesperson Bonyen Lee-Gilmore said: "Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton's misguided priorities will cost Texans their lives. They're spending their time targeting abortion, while allowing gun shops to remain essential and refusing to issue a statewide shelter in place order.”
The American Medical Association (AMA) and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have both released statements defending abortion access during the pandemic. "At this critical moment and every moment, physicians – not politicians – should be the ones deciding which procedures are urgent-emergent and need to be performed, and which ones can wait, in partnership with our patients," the AMA said.
After the recent appeals court decision, Planned Parenthood Acting President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson argued that Texas was treating abortion differently than other procedures. “No other form of health care is being targeted this way — only abortion," she said. "Don’t be fooled: Gov. Abbott's use of his executive order to ban abortion has nothing to do with health or safety. If Gov. Abbott cared about the lives of Texans, he’d be addressing the public health crisis at hand. Planned Parenthood is here with our patients. We will not cower before politicians who insist on exploiting a global pandemic to score political points.”
Paxton argued, however, that the group was mixing burdens by focusing on "essential" services and pointed out that the courts have been ruling on Gov. Abbott's original executive order, issued on March 22. The order contained exceptions for procedures necessary to protect the life of the patient. On Tuesday, Abbott implemented another executive order that outlined a series of "essential" activities such as trips to the grocery store or gas station.
"The message that they're sending us -- it's 'Hey look, we're as important as people that are critically ill and may die and we have to sacrifice some of those resources to do elective abortions,' which they've always said is a choice," the attorney general said. "'We want to do our elective procedures and unfortunately, that may mean we don't have resources for people that are critically ill and some of those people may end up with worse outcomes or die,'" he stated as a characterization of Planned Parenthood's position.
Pro-choice advocates have complained that the state was allowing religious services, despite its concerns about social distancing. Worship services, while not PPE-intensive, present the danger of easier transmission as parishoners generally crowd into limited spaces.
On Wednesday, Paxton's office released a statement emphasizing the need to protect First Amendment rights. It attached a guidance document which urged houses of worship to either conduct services remotely or follow the Trump administration's guidelines for preventing spread of the virus. Those included cancelling large gatherings where communities are experiencing a substantial spread of the virus.
Abby Johnson, who previously directed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, previously told Fox News that abortions weren't essential services. "Abortion is never an essential service and especially at this moment, when all our resources need to be focused on beating COVID-19, having a non-essential business diverting needed resources and PPE is detrimental and harmful to public health," she said.
During an interview with Fox News, she also highlighted how the numbr of coronavirus cases in Texas could grow, creating untold demands on health supplies. Johnson defended the state's decision to restrict medicinal abortions, arguing that those treatments could lead to complications and use of additional PPE.