UN Experts: Access to Contraception and Abortion Must Continue During COVID-19

UN Experts joined together to remind states of their human rights duty to ensure access to contraception for anyone who wants it, including during COVID-19.  On World Contraception Day (26 September), the experts, led by the new Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, states, “The right to sexual and reproductive health includes women’s freedom to decide whether to be pregnant, how many children to have, and to space pregnancies. It also imposes a core obligation on States to provide the essential medicines of the relevant WHO List which includes contraceptives.”

COVID-19 has made it more difficult for women to access family planning services with restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as production and supply chains being disrupted. However, the state obligations remain in place, and the experts said people are entitled to information and access to health care facilities irrespective of lockdown conditions. “It is especially important to ensure access for those in vulnerable situations or historically subjected to discrimination, such as adolescent girls, migrant women, women with disabilities, urban, slum dwellers, refugees, LGBT and gender diverse persons and communities, and women in the postpartum period.”

International Safe Abortion Day (28 September) continues the focus on women’s rights. The experts commented that avoiding maternal deaths requires the prevention of unwanted pregnancies through access to contraception, safe abortion services, and quality post-abortion care.  They referred to last year’s statement by Special Procedures Mandates Holders which noted that lack of access to safe and legal abortion drives service provision underground into the hands of unqualified practitioners, and exacerbates the risks to the health and safety of the affected women, in the form of pregnancy-related injuries and death. They added that about 25 million unsafe abortions take place every year, causing the preventable deaths of about 22,000 women, almost all in developing countries. Additionally, an estimated seven million women and girls experience injuries resulting in impairment and infertility. In contrast, countries where women have the effective right to abortion on request, supported by affordable and effective family planning measures, have the lowest abortion rates.

See their full statement here.

See also our December 2019 issue with two sections on abortion: Editorial on Abortion in the Middle East and North Africa and Editorial on Abortion Law Reform