WHO Urged To Declare Women's Right To Reproductive Healthcare A Public Health Issue During COVID-19 Pandemic

Female reproductive rights groups are urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that women continue to have access to contraception and safe abortions through the coronavirus pandemic, reported The Guardian.

While WHO released guidance notes last week suggesting that governments prioritize reproductive health services, some organizations believe that this is not enough to help women access these services.

One group, called Marie Stopes International (MSI), spoke out about the issue, stating that a stronger pronouncement by WHO would help countries see women's reproductive health as a public health issue. CEO of the organization, Simon Cooke, commented on the fears present throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.

"For us and for women who have unplanned pregnancies, it's a very worrying time and [abortion] is time critical."
Cooke added that the majority of abortions are performed within the first trimester, making them quite safe. However, with mobility reduced and clinics closed, women will have to wait longer for these services and risk more complex procedures.

MSI estimated that around 9.5 million girls and women would not have access to reproductive healthcare this year, which could result in up to 3 million unplanned pregnancies and around 2.7 million unsafe abortion procedures.

Madison Tolchin visits Paula Glass, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, for a health checkup at a Planned Parenthood clinic on April 14, 2017 in Wellington, Florida.
Getty Images | Joe Raedle

In many countries, the coronavirus pandemic has caused the closures of health clinics and services, or at the very least, severely limited their reach. The International Planned Parenthood Federation has reported that 5,600 of its clinics across 64 countries have had to close because of the pandemic. Clinics that remain open are seeing a shortage of contraceptives and HIV medicines.

Dr. Alvaro Bermejo, the director general of IPPF, commented on the consequences of the closures.

"These figures show that millions of women and girls across the world now face an even greater challenge in trying to take care of their own health and bodies."
This past week, 100 different NGOs issued a joint statement asking European countries to prioritize female health services and help women find ways to access them. These alternative solutions include providing online consultations and allowing women to take abortion pills at home.

President of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics Dr. Jeanne Conry believes that abortion is an essential part of women's healthcare rather than an elective procedure. She has stated that access to abortion through this pandemic is critical to avoid unplanned pregnancies, maternal mortality, and unsafe abortion procedures.

Unsafe abortions are responsible for between 4 and 13 percent of maternal deaths around the world.