Global Health Reproductive Rights Womens Rights

COVID-19 Activates Debate on Abortion Access Around the World

Globally, federal and local governments have adjusted abortion policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing shortage of medical supplies and stay-at-home orders as rationale for restriction.

The government of the United Kingdom generated confusion among abortion providers, when a government website announced that patients would be allowed to access early medical abortion from home, only to rescind the announcement hours later. Under the preexisting policy, patients in England are required to take the first of two pills in an abortion clinic, and may take the second pill in their homes. Abortion providers are urging policymakers to review the policy, as patients in the UK must now decide between risking their health by leaving their homes to get an abortion or continuing an unwanted pregnancy.

Similarly, abortions in Germany are technically continuing, but patients are having difficulty accessing counseling centers. The preexisting policy requires patients to attend an in-person counseling appointment before terminating a pregnancy. German abortion providers are pressing for the government to allow counseling sessions via video chat or phone call to limit in-person interaction.

In the United States, state governments have gone even further, by categorizing abortions among nonessential surgical procedures, effectively cancelling or delaying most abortion appointments. Abortion providers have highlighted the relatively little medical equipment that is necessary to perform abortions, as well is the procedure’s time sensitive nature–the longer an abortion is delayed, the more dangerous it is for the patient and the more difficult it is to obtain, given restrictive abortion laws throughout the United States.

In contrast, New Zealand’s parliament has expanded abortion access in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Up until last week, New Zealand law criminalized abortion, even in the first trimester, excluding cases in which the patient’s physical or mental health was put at risk by the pregnancy. The new law allows unrestricted abortion access during the first half of pregnancy, and leaves abortions in the second half of pregnancy to the discretion of medical professionals and the patient.

Sources: CNN, 3/27/20; The New York Times, 3/26/20; The Guardian, 3/24/20; The New York Times, 3/18/20