European nations urged to protect abortion access in coronavirus lockdown

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - European governments must safeguard access to abortion services during the coronavirus pandemic, advocacy groups said on Wednesday, amid fears of a surge in unwanted pregnancies.

An open letter signed by 100 human rights groups and health experts calls for abortion pills to be sent to homes, remote access to health services and the removal of administrative processes like wait periods and mandatory counselling.

“We’re extremely concerned that women’s and girls’ reproductive rights are being undermined and not being upheld during the pandemic,” said Hillary Margolis, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Governments should recognise access to safe abortion is essential medical care and needs to be done in a time-sensitive way and that they should be facilitating that,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Measures to fight the coronavirus are forcing clinics and outreach programmes to shut as medical staff are redeployed, while closures of pharmaceutical factories in China and delays in shipping have caused shortages of supplies.

Meanwhile, women under lockdown are facing increased levels of domestic abuse, raising the risk of unwanted pregnancies, said Margolis.

The letter calls for temporary removal of mandatory wait periods, which are usually between one and seven days and are often accompanied by counselling.

Mandatory wait times are imposed in 16 countries across Europe and counselling is required in 13, including Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, according to the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

“European governments must act urgently to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Leah Hoctor, the Centre’s regional director for Europe.

“They should move swiftly to eradicate all medically unnecessary requirements that hamper access to abortion care and should authorize women to access early medical abortion from their homes.”

Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit