reproductive rights

Reproductive Rights Cannot Be Pushed Aside

Emma Landsburgh discusses the threat that the Covid-19 pandemic poses to women's reproductive rights.

By Emma Landsburgh

As coronavirus cases continue to rise across the world, the UK has seen a detrimental impact on an already strained NHS. We are living in a nationwide shutdown that is profoundly affecting everybody’s lives. However, there has been a lack of thoughtful provision for other areas of medicine, as all efforts are focused towards flattening the curve.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has stated that over the next 13 weeks, an estimated 44,000 people will need to access these necessary services. However, due to illness and enforcement of self-isolation, the BPAS has seen over a quarter of their clinics shut, leaving many women at a loss. The World Health Organisation estimated that approximately 56 million abortions occur yearly around the globe. These closures have been removed from the hands of the workers as lack of support has been offered to these necessary clinics. Across the pond in America, the state of Ohio has seen abortion clinics close as they were deemed as non-essential medical providers. We are facing a similar situation in the UK as women’s health is seen as an alternative – a safe option has not been offered.  

These sudden closures have forced many women to travel to other clinics or face over-crowded NHS provisions which are already finding it difficult to keep up with the demand, especially during a time that is endorsing social distancing. Many women will be forced into considering unsafe measures to be able to access an abortion. The voice of immunocompromised women has been completely ignored as they struggle to gain information or options about what to do. Many cannot leave their houses or have been forced to risk their health in hope of being provided with essential health care. An already difficult situation has been worsened tenfold.

In England, women must attend a clinic and have a consultation before having the abortion. The medical procedure offers two pills, the first one to be taken in the clinic and the second at home between 48 to 72 hours after. Women also must get a signature from two doctors for their abortion to go ahead. This method is under strain in this current climate as it is almost impossible to attend such clinics. In Scotland and Wales, legislation has already been passed which allows women to take both tablets at home.

Within the last week, the government had released new legislation stating that women would be able to take the pills within the safety of their home. However, after five hours this legislation was deleted and was said to have been “published in error. There will be no changes to abortion regulation.”. The BPAS was staggered by the sudden reversal as it leaves many women in an incredibly precarious position; it could have been a breakthrough for women’s health services. Legislation will not change a woman’s mind about abortion, but the lack of support will instead force them into dangerous situations as they find other options.   

The advantages of telemedicine are clear, especially during a pandemic, as it offers women a sense of security. The Guttmacher Institute released a summary detailing the impact of a pandemic on health services. The main ones were shortages of medication, diversion of medical staff and an extra strain upon health care services. The lack of provision or thought for anything beyond this has made it clear that abortion is not seen as an essential procedure, making the path much clearer to another health crisis. The method of telemedicine has been recommended again and again by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. The government adamantly ignoring and retracting the bill does not leave any questions to where women are placed within our society. Especially as Dr Jonathan Lord, the Medical Director for Marie Stopes UK, has already heard of widespread reports across the NHS of women being unable to access health services.

In this pandemic, focus has been placed upon the virus and its continuous and seemingly uncontrollable spread. However, care must still be provided to our vulnerable. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Pregnancy Service have all demanded more flexibility within the system. In a time of self-isolation and lockdowns there will be a rise in sexual violence and sexual activity which will lead to many needing to access the medical care of the clinics and needing an abortion. The lack of concern for women within governments has reaffirmed fears that reproductive rights are not seen as insignificant.

Normality has been indefinitely eradicated from society by the current circumstances and our lives have changed completely. However, health services need to be maintained and be given the funding that they need and deserve. We would not be facing this crisis with such harsh circumstances if the NHS had been funded properly throughout the last several years. These essential medical practices cannot be pushed aside, especially as they are in demand. We need to rethink our outlook and approach to people and services in our society, especially during our time of crisis.

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