Consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic could force at least 1.5 million more women to seek unsafe abortions worldwide, according to new estimates.
The figure appeared in a Tuesday report published by Marie Stopes International (MSI), a global reproductive care organization that provides contraception and safe abortions to women in 37 countries. As lockdown measures implemented in response to COVID-19 made accessing the organization’s usual services more difficult, almost 2 million women and girls were left without options for legitimate reproductive care.
Data included in MSI’s report suggested that lost services between January and June could lead to as many as 900,000 unintended pregnancies and 3,100 pregnancy-related deaths across the world, in addition to unsafe abortions. Those numbers compound the incidences of each circumstance that existed prior to the global health crisis, and only account for barriers to accessing MSI’s programs.
Women in India felt the most significant impacts of lost services previously offered by MSI. Tuesday’s report noted 1.3 million fewer women had access to reproductive care, and roughly 920,000 fewer women had access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, due to the nation’s lockdown. The organization expects an additional 1 million women will undergo unsafe abortions in India as a result, and an estimated 2,600 more will die from complications related to pregnancy.
“Women’s needs do not suddenly stop or diminish during an emergency—they become greater. And as doctor I have seen only too often the drastic action that women and girls take when they are unable to access contraception and safe abortion,” said Dr. Rashmi Ardey, the director of clinical services for MSI’s initiatives in India, in a statement alongside the organization’s most recent report.
“This pandemic has strained healthcare services all over the world, but sexual and reproductive healthcare was already so under prioritised that once again women are bearing the brunt of this global calamity,” Ardey continued.
MSI partnered with governments and non-profit organizations in several nations in efforts to expand access to reproductive care during the pandemic, advocating for safe abortion and post-abortion services to be classified as essential work. Still, with laws heavily restricting abortion access, or banning altogether, still effective in dozens of countries, the organization said global leaders need to do more to protect women’s health.
“Governments need to take immediate action to overturn the restrictive, and colonial, penal codes which restrict women’s legal access to abortion,” Bethan Cobley, director of policy and partnerships at MSI, said in a statement to Newsweek on Wednesday. “Until these legal barriers are overturned health systems will be unable to adapt to respond to pandemic such as Covid-19 and women will have to endure the indignity of unintended pregnancy or risks their lives seeking unsafe procedures.”
The pandemic has affected a number of leading reproductive care organizations. Planned Parenthood, the largest reproductive health care provider in the United States, shifted many of its services to prioritize remote consultations as clinics closed earlier this year.
Some Planned Parenthood sites cut hours or suspended walk-in appointments as the national outbreak persisted, while others closed entirely and began referring patients to different locations or providers instead. The organization outlines procedures still offered and shares resources about how and where to receive contraception and safe abortion services in guidance shared to its website.
Newsweek reached out to Planned Parenthood for comments but did not receive a reply in time for publication.