Young Feminist Europe along with a number of European civil society organizations is calling on European countries to ensure safe and timely access to abortions during the Covid 19 pandemic. The following joint statement outlines a package of measures and formulates concrete recommendations for the member states.

Joint civil society statement:

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 [1] 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. [2] 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 [3] and the recommendations of medical experts [4] the following measures should be adopted, and at a minimum remain in place for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic:

– Ensure that abortion is treated as essential and time-sensitive health care and guarantee access to care in a timely manner. – Authorize and make available in a timely manner telehealth consultations for anyone who is seeking abortion care or information. Specific measures should be adopted to ensure that telehealth consultations are free or low cost and easily accessible for marginalized groups. – Guarantee timely access to early medical abortion throughout each jurisdiction and allow doctors to prescribe the necessary medication via telehealth consultation. – Allow individuals to take all abortion medication at home. Requirements in some European countries that one pill must be taken in the physical presence of a doctor or in a health care facility should be removed. – Remove mandatory waiting periods prior to abortion as well as mandatory counseling requirements or ensure counseling can be conducted through telehealth consultation. – Authorize primary care doctors and midwives to provide early medical abortion. – Adopt health system safeguards to guarantee access to care in cases where early medical abortion is not possible or is contraindicated, for individuals who need abortion care later in pregnancy or post-abortion care, or who may need to visit a health care facility for other reasons. 

Travel in such cases should be deemed essential and permitted even where governments have otherwise restricted free movement. – Where a doctor’s authorization is required, this should be limited to one doctor. Requirements for multiple doctors’ approval of an abortion should be removed. – Guarantee timely access to prenatal testing and psychosocial support where requested. – Guarantee an adequate number of providers willing and able to provide abortion care throughout the country and widely publicize information on how women can identify health care professionals willing and available to provide abortion care. Urgently ensure that refusals of care by doctors do not jeopardize access to abortion care in a time of crisis. – Widely disseminate information on those changes to SRHR policies and health care services that are being made in the context of COVID-19 responses. – Ensure access to contraception including emergency contraception, including through authorizing telehealth consultations and provision of emergency contraception over the counter in pharmacies without a prescription.

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.

  1. Abortion Rights Campaign, Ireland
  2. Albanian Center for Population and Development
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Amrita Association, Hungary
  5. ASPECT, Slovakia
  6. Association des Femmes de l’Europe Meridionale
  7. Association européenne pour la défense des droits de l’homme (AEDH)
  8. Association for Human Rights and Civic Participation PaRiter, Croatia
  9. Association for promotion of women’s action Tiiiit! Inc., North Macedonia
  10. Association Mnémosyne, France
  11. Association of Women of Southern Europe (AFEM)
  12. Associazione italiana donne per lo sviluppo, Italy
  13. Associazione Luca Coscioni, Italy
  14. ASTRA Network
  15. Austrian Family Planning Association
  16. Bibija Roma Women Center, Serbia
  17. British Pregnancy Advisory Service
  18. Bureau Clara Wichmann, Foundation for strategic litigation for gender equality, Netherlands
  19. CGIL Confederazione Italiana del Lavoro, Italy
  20. Center for Curricular Development and Gender Studies: FILIA, Romania
  21. Center for Reproductive Rights
  22. CESI – Center for Education, Counseling and Research, Croatia
  23. Citizen, democracy and accountability, Slovakia
  24. Clio. Femmes, Genre, History, France
  25. Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, Ireland
  26. Concord Research Center for Integration of International Law in Israel
  27. Cyprus Family Planning Association
  28. Danish Family Planning Association
  29. German Foundation for World Population (DSW)
  30. Doctors for Choice Ireland
  31. Doctors for Choice Malta
  32. Doctors for Choice UK
  33. Encore feminists
  34. Equipop
  35. Estonian Sexual Health Association
  36. European Humanist Federation
  37. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights
  38. European Roma Rights Center
  39. European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health (ESC)
  40. European Women Lawyers Association
  41. Family Planning Association of Moldova
  42. Federación Planificación Estatal, Spain
  43. Fédération des Centers Pluralistes de Planning Familial, Belgium
  44. Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland
  45. Federation laïque des centers de planning familial – FLCPF, Belgium
  46. Femmes solidaires, France
  47. Forum femmes méditerranée
  48. Freedom of Choice / Moznost volby, Slovakia
  49. Fundación para la Convivencia Aspacia, Spain
  50. Garance, Belgium
  51. German Women Lawyers’ Association
  52. Helia Association, Spain
  53. HERA – Health education and research association, North Macedonia
  54. Human Rights Watch
  55. Humanists UK
  56. International Commission of Jurists
  57. International Federation for Professionals in Abortion and Contraception (FIAPAC)
  58. International Planned Parenthood Federation – European Network
  59. IPAS
  60. Irish Family Planning Association
  61. Kosovar Gender Studies Center
  62. LAIGA, Italy
  63. L ‘Associació de Drets Sexuals i Reproductius, Spain
  64. La Ligue des droits de l’Homme, France
  65. Latvian Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health
  66. Le Planning Familial, France
  67. London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign
  68. Médecins du monde-France
  69. Nane, Hungary
  70. National platform for reproductive justice, Croatia
  71. National Women’s Council of Ireland
  72. Patent Association, Hungary
  73. Planning Familial Luxembourg
  74. Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)
  75. pro familia federal association, Germany
  76. Rape Crisis Network Ireland
  77. Regards de Femmes, France
  78. Rutgers, Netherlands
  79. Santé Sexuelle Suisse, Switzerland
  80. Sarajevo Open Center, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  81. Seimos planavimo ir seksualines sveikatos asociacija / Family Planning and Sexual Health Association, Lithuania
  82. Sensoa, Belgium
  83. Serbian Association for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
  84. Sex og Politikk, Norway
  85. Society Without Violence, Armenia
  86. SOS Rijeka – Center for Nonviolence and Human Rights, Croatia
  87. Swedish Association for Sexuality Education
  88. Tajik Family Planning Association
  89. Union des Familles Laïques – UFAL, France
  90. Union Women Center, Georgia
  91. Väestöliitto – The Family Federation of Finland
  92. Vita di donna, Italy
  93. Voice for Choice – L-ghazla taghha, Malta
  94. Wales Assembly of Women
  95. WAVE Network – Women Against Violence Europe
  96. Women Center “Light Steps”, Albania
  97. Women on Waves, Netherlands
  98. Women on Web, Netherlands
  99. Women’s Rights Foundation, Malta
  100. Women’s circles, Slovakia
  101. Women’s Resource Center Armenia
  102. YouAct – European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights
  103. Young Feminist Europe

[1] 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.

[2] Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Poland and San Marino.

[3] 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.

[4] 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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