Mason Hickman of Planned Parenthood on the impact on COVID-19 on abortion access in Ohio

Ohio abortion rights advocates face unprecedented challenges as they fight to preserve access to reproductive health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The state of abortion access in Ohio was already under attack. Once these stay-at-home orders went into effect, we have seen over 10 anti-choice bills make their way to the Ohio General Assembly,” said Mason Hickman, a digital organizer for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio. I previously spoke with Hickman after Ohio lawmakers passed the restrictive 2019 Heartbeat Bill, which banned abortions taking place after detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually around five or six weeks. (The bill has been temporarily blocked by the federal courts.)

Hickman believes that the new anti-abortion bills are based in “medically inaccurate” claims and serve to stigmatize necessary health care. Other attempts to restrict abortion access have cynically taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After the Ohio Department of Health issued an order temporarily banning non-essential surgeries, Attorney General Dave Yost ordered several abortion clinics to stop performing what he termed “non-essential and elective” abortion care. But on April 23, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett issued an injunction to allow surgical abortions to continue, calling Yost’s restrictions a “plain, palpable invasion of rights.”

“All abortions are essential and time-sensitive,” said Hickman. 

For now, patients in Ohio can still access abortion services up to week 20, even if obtaining appointments may be challenging. 

“The first thing that I would suggest is just make the appointment,” Hickman said of anyone seeking an abortion, noting that financial help is available for people of all genders through Women Have Options Ohio. “Especially now with everything going on, [where] everything is so up in the air, there are people out there who support you. … You have options and they are still available to you.”

Abortion rights advocates are hard at work, but their fight has moved online amid current “stay at home” orders. Hickman now organizes digital training and meetings that people all over the state can participate in either through Zoom or by phone. 

Hickman urges new activists to get involved in causes that matter to them, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Just know that there is someone out there who wants to hear what you have to say, what you believe in, what you want to fight for,” he said. “There are other people who want you on their team or want you to lead them.”

Watch the entirety of Ellison's interview with Hickman below.