As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and lockdowns are enforced to stop the spread, abortion access—which is limited even in the best of times—has come under threat worldwide.
While some governments have responded with efforts to expand access to abortion—including the easing of restrictions on abortion pills and self-managed abortion—others, including the United States, have rushed to declare abortion “nonessential,” shut down clinics, and pass legislation to further restrict access. Pregnancy does not stop during a crisis, nor does the need for quality, safe, affordable, and compassionate abortion care. In fact, Marie Stopes International estimates that up to 9.5 million women and girls could lose access to contraception and abortion services due to the pandemic.
As a result, feminists have mobilized to protect and advance abortion care. Whether through innovative protest, social media mobilization, online training, or applying pressure on national governments, activists worldwide are working tirelessly to ensure that abortion access is not another casualty of the COVID-19 crisis.
Re-Opening an Abortion Clinic in Brazil
In São Paulo, Brazil, the main abortion clinic was closed to, purportedly, reduce foot traffic and cut the rate of infection. Brazilian feminists immediately mobilized to re-open the clinic and ensure abortion services could continue throughout the pandemic. IWHC grantee partners Centro Feminista de Estudos e Assessoria (CFEMEA) and Grupo Curumim, among others, led a campaign that alerted the media and mobilized São Paulo’s public defenders and prosecutors as well as the Bar Association of the State of São Paulo, resulting in the clinic reopening.
Mass Protest in Poland
In Poland, which is home to Europe’s most restrictive abortion policy, the hyper-conservative government is trying once again to enact a total ban. Feminists—including IWHC grantee partner the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning—have successfully fought previous anti-abortion legislation through mass protest and have once again come together, finding innovative ways to demonstrate against the proposed legislation while honoring COVID-19 related restrictions on movement and group gatherings. Protesters used their cars to block a main roundabout in Warsaw, hung banners and black umbrellas (a sign of feminist protest) from car windows and balconies, and targeted policymakers with daily Twitter storms. More than 100 groups, including IWHC, have issued a letter urging the Polish Parliament to reject the bill. Though the outcome remains uncertain, Polish feminists have clearly demonstrated that the power of protest continues.
The Federation has also partnered with more than a hundred European NGOs in urging governments to prioritize reproductive health during the pandemic by reducing abortion restrictions and increasing access to telemedicine and abortion with pills.
Expanding Telemedicine for Abortion in South Africa
In South Africa, where abortion is legal but access is uneven, feminist activists—including IWHC grantee partner the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition (SRJC)—are using the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic to illustrate the need for expanded access to self-managed abortion. South Africa has expanded telemedicine in response to the lockdown, and SRJC and allied advocates are working tirelessly to ensure that the increasing use of telemedicine will expand access to self-managed abortion, as they urged in a recent statement.
Supporting Self-Managed Abortion in Latin America
Abortion is broadly restricted in Latin America and, due to the pandemic, is increasingly difficult to access. IWHC grantee partners are continuing to provide pregnant people with information and support on self-managed abortion throughout the region. In Mexico, Fondo Maria—an abortion fund and hotline run by IWHC grantee partner Balance—provides financial, emotional, and logistical support to people seeking abortions. Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, their hotline service calls have risen by 50% as more pregnant people require support to get services.
In Chile, IWHC grantee partner Con las Amigas y en la casa is also continuing to provide information about self-managed abortion during the lockdown, using Instagram Live to host workshops, acknowledging, “…In quarantine we keep aborting! And we are still looking for strategies to get safe and careful information for all.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has once again revealed the power and resilience of feminist movements worldwide. Even in times of crisis and uncertainty, feminists mobilize to protect the health and rights of women, girls, and marginalized people worldwide. IWHC is proud to stand by our grantee partners as they continue to advocate for abortion rights and ensure access for all.