This spring, more than 500 members of Socorristas en Red went to work virtually: On the phone and online, they advised women on medical abortions and connected them with doctors who would help. Between March and June, they helped more than 6,000 women navigate the abortion process, almost half as many as in 2019 as a whole.
Worldwide, the pandemic is hampering women’s and girls’ access to reproductive services as clinics close and barriers to medical care increase. The United Nations has warned that it could lead to millions of unintended pregnancies, with about 47 million women potentially being weaned off modern contraception.
Some programs and policies have managed to thwart this trend, such as the expansion of telemedicine in the UK for self-administered abortions. Global groups such as Women on Web provide virtual counseling and help deliver abortion pills to homes, a way to circumvent local restrictions.
But as the pandemic continues, UN projections reflect the reality of millions of women in countries without legalized services or plans to tackle long-term reproductive care disorders.
Argentine law allows abortion only in cases of rape or threat to the mother’s life. The law allows doctors to give up on religious or other grounds. In practice, even women who qualify legally are often denied access.
In 2018, Argentina’s lower house passed a bill legalizing abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The Senate rejected him by a hair. But by then, public opinion had changed. President Alberto Fernandez has vowed to legalize abortion when the legislature resumes operations in March, despite opposition from the Catholic Church.
Then came the new coronavirus. The congress became virtual. The bill lay in obscurity.
Some politicians have argued that the country’s healthcare system is too overwhelmed by the virus to undertake abortion procedures. Mariela Belski, CEO of Amnesty International-Argentina, disagreed.
“The government’s justification that the health care system is overcrowded is not enough to justify not considering abortion [law], “she said.” Abortions certainly happen outside the system in unsafe conditions. “Legalizing it, she said, would put” less pressure on the health system. ”
Colombia was also at the peak of the change in early March, as the country awaited a ruling by the Constitutional Court on whether to legalize abortion in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. On March 3, the court ruled not to change the law, which allows abortions within limited periods for pregnancies that result from rape that pose a risk to the mother’s life or involve a fetus with serious health problems.
In the coming months, the coronavirus has made it difficult for millions of Colombians to access reproductive services, said Catalina Martinez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Center for Reproductive Rights.
As in Argentina, the Colombian Ministry of Health has issued guidelines stating that abortion is a basic service. But many doctors still refused to use them, a particular problem for isolated women in poor and rural communities. About half of Colombia’s 50 million people do not have access to the Internet, which complicates telemedicine, Coral said.
So in mid-September, a coalition led by the Causa Justa movement, a community organization, filed a lawsuit against Colombia’s Supreme Court. The case argued that the classification of abortion as a crime “violates the fundamental rights of women and health professionals”.
The pandemic has begun, Coral said.
“Because we live in this pandemic and the pandemic is impairing access to basic health services, we need to provide access now,” she said.
England, Wales and Scotland:
Before the pandemic, women in England, Wales and Scotland could visit a clinic for consultation and medical abortion, there or at home. Under the end-March emergency legislation in force for the next two years, the same service can now be provided entirely online. In most cases, no ultrasound is needed and the pills are sent home.
The Aiken study analyzes the demand for online services for women in eight European countries: Five countries report a significant increase, while England is the only country where demand is declining. She attributes this to women who meet their needs through the official health network.
“If the results of these abortions are as good as the medical model we had before, why not turn this into a status quo?” She said.
In Northern Ireland, the coronavirus was a “strangeness in the system” that served as the final impetus for the deployment of services, said Dawn Purvis of the Alliance for Choice, an abortion advocacy group there.
Last year, the British Parliament ruled that strictly restrictive abortion laws in Northern Ireland were contrary to Britain’s human rights obligations. By March 31, it is said that the delegated government of Northern Ireland must provide abortion services. Previously, seekers were forced to travel to other places in the United Kingdom.
The launch was stony. Abortion remains controversial in Northern Ireland, and the Conservative Democratic Unionist Party strongly opposes the procedure. Activists have accused the health minister of delaying the implementation, which led to a short period in which women had to travel by ferry to England for abortions after airlines cut off services. By mid-April, medical professionals had offered abortions as needed.
Still, Purvis said he was worried about “the most vulnerable women” – such as those who are poor, migrants or abused.
“Restrictions on coronavirus have allowed some, but have banned many, many others,” she said.
Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, which Parliament discussed tightening in April. A similar proposal met with mass protests in 2016. This time, women also took to the streets – but in violation of restrictions on the coronavirus.
Access is unequal around Europe. While some countries have declared abortion a substantial procedure, others, such as Romania and Croatia, have not. In Italy, Human Rights Watch accused the government in June of failing to provide time-sensitive reproductive care.
As The Washington Post reports, some U.S. states are trying to ban abortions by classifying them as elective medical procedures that have been suspended as part of coronavirus emergency orders.
In May, U.S. officials accused the United Nations of using the pandemic to promote abortion through emergency services for sexual and reproductive health services, a charge it denied. President Trump has banned US-funded health care providers from providing or discussing abortions. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has vowed to repeal the rule if he wins in November.