DES MOINES, Iowa — An aide to Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday that an order she issued this week to slow the spread of coronavirus had outlawed abortions in Iowa, but that interpretation was never explained to the organization that performs most abortions in the state and only came to light after it was released to a conservative talk radio host.
The abortion decision comes amid actions to slow the spread of coronavirus and to conserve medical equipment in case a surge of cases hits hospitals in coming weeks.
Iowa is experiencing a jump in confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with public health officials on Friday reporting 56 new positive tests and two additional deaths. Iowa now has 298 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three deaths from the virus, according to public health officials.
Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said Friday the proclamation Reynolds enacted Thursday “suspends all nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures until April 16th, that includes surgical abortion procedures.”
Reynolds, a Republican and vocal abortion opponent, has publicly voiced her intention to find a way to end abortions in Iowa, if possible.
News that her proclamation would temporarily outlaw abortion came after a social media post by conservative Des Moines radio host Simon Conway, who posted a text he’d received from Garrett.
Planned Parenthood said it just learned of the governor’s comments Friday afternoon.
“We are assessing the executive order in light of the governor’s comments today,” Planned Parenthood North Central States said in a statement.
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Other governors have recently taken similar action. The governor of Oklahoma halted abortions there until April 7 and similar moves were made by governors in Texas and Ohio earlier this week.
The Iowa Department of Public Health identified the latest deaths as an adult over age 81 in Poweshiek County and an Allamakee County resident between 61 and 80 years old. Both died Thursday night.
Health officials said 32 Iowa residents were hospitalized. The virus has now been found in 50 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
The most recent cases mark the largest single-day increase. On Thursday, the state reported 34 new cases.
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.
Reynolds on Thursday expanded an earlier order closing businesses to include stores that sell furniture, books, clothing, shoes, jewelry and other items. The closures — which already included bars, dine-in restaurants, theaters and casinos — will last until at least April 7, she said. Schools will remain closed until April 13.
She has taken criticism for not ordering a mandatory shelter-in-place and on Friday was asked about critics who say the actions she has taken have needlessly shut down the economy.
Reynolds called her decisions among the most difficult she has taken as governor, and she became visibly upset as she encouraged Iowa residents to stay the course for a little longer.
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“I know Iowans are scared and they’re nervous and I appreciate that, but we’re going to get through it and if you keep doing what we’ve asked you to do, we will be back to those good days so hang in there,” she said, removing her glasses and her voice cracking.
Also Friday, Johnson County’s Board of Supervisors asked businesses that remain open to scale back their operations as much as possible. Board Chairman Rod Sullivan said he believed some businesses may be able to have more of their employees work from home.
Sullivan said the board would send Reynolds a letter asking her to issue a shelter-in-place order for the county. At the same time, Sullivan acknowledged he did not know what that step would mean given the business and school closures already in place across the state.
Johnson County has had the most confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Iowa since the outbreak began, and that figure rose to 58 on Friday.
Shauna Callaway, director of public health in Poweshiek County, said the person who died in that county was a man with underlying health conditions who had been hospitalized at Grinnell Regional Medical Center. Callaway said three other county residents have tested positive for the virus in recent days.
“We need the help of every community member to self-isolate when they are sick and stay home when they are not,” she said. “Please stay home. That’s what’s truly going to mitigate this spread.”
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