Joint Civil Society Statement: European governments must ensure safe and timely access to abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic and public health crisis is presenting grave challenges for health care systems across Europe.
As European countries work to address the pandemic, protect their populations, and meet the increased demand on health care workers and health care facilities it is vital that they adopt measures to safeguard the health, human dignity, physical and mental integrity, and reproductive autonomy of women and girls in the region. In many countries the lack of government measures to guarantee individuals’ safe and timely access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, goods, and information during the pandemic is of particular concern. Women and girls are facing significant restrictions in safely accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services, particularly timely abortion care, post abortion care, and emergency contraception. Such restrictions disproportionately impact individuals belonging to marginalized groups, including women living in poverty, women with disabilities, Roma women, undocumented migrant women, adolescents, and women at risk or who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
These restrictions also create unnecessary risks of exposure to COVID-19 for women and girls and their families as well as for health care providers. Particularly grave barriers are arising for women and girls living in European countries where abortion care is illegal or severely restricted, and where as a result they must travel to other countries to access legal care or must obtain abortion medication from outside their own jurisdiction.
These issues can also arise in those European countries where individuals are forced to go through burdensome or harmful administrative processes to access abortion care or where they may have difficulty finding doctors in their country willing to provide care. We applaud those governments that have moved swiftly to safeguard access to essential time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health care during this time, in particular through ensuring access to telehealth and early medical abortion from home. We call on all other European governments to follow suit and to follow the guidance of medical and public health experts. We call on the six European countries where abortion is illegal or severely restricted to urgently reform these laws, which place women’s health and lives at risk. Limitations on travel and transport now compound the impact of these highly restrictive laws. Individuals in these countries may no longer be able to travel abroad or to obtain medication for abortion sent by post from medical providers in other countries. As a result, they face heightened risks to their health and wellbeing. We call on those countries where abortion is legal but where clinical services are unavailable or difficult to access due to a range of barriers, including medically unnecessary requirements that oblige individuals to take multiple or unneeded trips to health care facilities or undergo mandatory hospitalization, to urgently eradicate those barriers and ensure access to services. Urgent steps should also be taken to ensure that refusals of care because of private beliefs by doctors do not jeopardize timely access to legal abortion care. In accordance with human rights obligations and the recommendations of medical experts the following measures should be adopted, and at a minimum remain in place for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic: Finally, we call on all policy makers across the European region to reject proposals that purport to restrict access to safe abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These disingenuous proposals simply serve to exacerbate the current public health crisis and have negative effects on the health, lives, and wellbeing of women and girls. Signatories: Abortion Rights Campaign, Ireland Albanian Center for Population and Development Amnesty International Amrita Association, Hungary ASPEKT, Slovakia Association des Femmes de l’Europe Meridionale Association européenne pour la défense des droits de l’homme (AEDH) Association for Human Rights and Civic Participation PaRiter, Croatia Association for promotion of women's action Tiiiit! Inc., North Macedonia Association Mnémosyne, France Association of Women of Southern Europe (AFEM) Associazione italiana donne per lo sviluppo, Italy Associazione Luca Coscioni, Italy ASTRA Network Austrian Family Planning Association Bibija Roma Women Center, Serbia British Pregnancy Advisory Service Bureau Clara Wichmann, Foundation for strategic litigation for gender equality, Netherlands C.G.I.L. Confederazione Italiana del Lavoro, Italy Center for Curricular Development and Gender Studies: FILIA , Romania Center for Reproductive Rights CESI - Center for Education, Counselling and Research, Croatia Citizen, Democracy and Accountability, Slovakia Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire, France Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, Ireland Concord Research Center for Integration of International Law in Israel Cyprus Family Planning Association Danish Family Planning Association Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) Doctors for Choice Ireland Doctors for Choice Malta Doctors for Choice UK Encore féministes Equipop Estonian Sexual Health Association European Humanist Federation European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual Reproductive Rights European Roma Rights Centre European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health (ESC) European Women Lawyers Association Family Planning Association of Moldova Federación Planificación Estatal, Spain Fédération des Centres Pluralistes de Planning Familial, Belgium Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland Fédération laïque des centres de planning familial (FLCPF), Belgium Femmes solidaires, France Forum femmes méditerranée Freedom of Choice / Možnosť voľby, Slovakia Fundación para la Convivencia Aspacia, Spain Garance, Belgium German Women Lawyers’ Association Helia Association, Spain HERA – Health education and research association, North Macedonia Human Rights Watch Humanists UK International Commission of Jurists International Federation for Professionals in Abortion and Contraception (FIAPAC) International Planned Parenthood Federation – European Network IPAS Irish Family Planning Association Kosovar Gender Studies Center L.A.I.G.A, Italy L’ Associació de Drets Sexuals i Reproductius, Spain La Ligue des droits de l'Homme, France Latvian Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health Le Planning Familial, France London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign Médecins du monde-France Nane, Hungary National platform for reproductive justice, Croatia National Women's Council of Ireland Patent Association, Hungary Planning Familial Luxembourg Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) pro familia Bundesverband, Germany Rape Crisis Network Ireland Regards de Femmes, France Rutgers, Netherlands Santé Sexuelle Suisse, Switzerland Sarajevo Open Centre, Bosnia and Herzegovina Šeimos planavimo ir seksualinės sveikatos asociacija / Family Planning and Sexual Health Association, Lithuania Sensoa, Belgium Serbian Association for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Sex og Politikk, Norway Society Without Violence, Armenia SOS Rijeka – Center for Nonviolence and Human Rights, Croatia Swedish Association for Sexuality Education Tajik Family Planning Association Union des Familles Laïques – UFAL, France Union Women Center, Georgia Väestöliitto - The Family Federation of Finland Vita di donna, Italy Voice for Choice - L-għażla tagħha, Malta Wales Assembly of Women WAVE Network - Women Against Violence Europe Women Center "Light Steps", Albania Women on Waves, Netherlands Women on Web, Netherlands Women’s Rights Foundation, Malta Women's circles, Slovakia Women's Resource Center Armenia YouAct - European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights Young Feminist Europe  This statement refers to women and girls, as the majority of individuals who are needing abortion care identify as such but it equally applies to all individuals who may become pregnant and need abortion care or other sexual and reproductive health care.  Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Poland and San Marino.  For an overview of regional and international human rights obligations, see Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Issue Paper on Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe.  World Health Organization, Safe abortion: Technical policy guidance for health systems, Legal and policy considerations - Key messages; Health worker roles in providing safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception; Expanding health worker roles for safe abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, Summary.
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