Reproductive health services was listed as one of the examples of essential services by the WHO recently. In a note issued to all governments, the WHO advised all governments to identify and prioritise the health services each believed essential.
Clinical guidelines published by the organisation on March 30 said that women’s right to sexual and reproductive healthcare “should be respected irrespective of Covid-19 status, including access to contraception and safe abortion”.
The guidelines stress the importance of keeping up-to-date information. This requires frequent transparent communications with the public, and strong community engagements so the public can maintain trust in the system to safely meet their essential needs and to control infection risk in health facilities. This will help ensure that people continue to seek care when appropriate, and adhere to public health advice.
However, it seems the advisory has been ignored by countries. It has been reported that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has upheld the ban on most abortions imposed by Texas. Ban on abortion in Texas has been introduced as part of a larger effort to preserve medical supplies for health workers treating COVID-19. Texas is one of several states where Republican officials have tried to ban most abortions during the pandemic, and patients seeking abortions are being turned away.
On Friday, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Iowa joined Texas and Ohio in banning most surgical abortions in their states. The status of medical abortions is unclear and also appears to vary across these states.
Each year, nearly 1 million women choose to end a pregnancy in the United States, and about one quarter of American women will use abortion services by 45 years of age. Women’s ability to determine whether and when they have a child has profound consequences for their self-determination and for the economic, social, and political equality of women as a group. Because access to safe abortion care is time-sensitive and vitally important.
Calls to Protect Human Rights Services
Alarmed by the situation, experts have urged WHO to declare abortion an essential health service during the coronavirus pandemic.
Simon Cooke, the CEO of Marie Stopes International (MSI), said a stronger pronouncement by the WHO would be “immensely helpful as it would help countries to see abortion from a public health perspective”.
There have been growing calls for governments to protect abortion services during the crisis. On Wednesday, 100 NGOs issued a joint statement imploring European states to find new ways to help women access services during lockdown, such as through online consultations and, as introduced in the UK introduced last month, by allowing them to take abortion pills at home.
In the US, the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed emergency lawsuits in five states to thwart moves by legislators to ban abortion during the pandemic.