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Failures to guarantee safe access to abortion in Europe endangers health of women and girls amid COVID-19, Amnesty warns

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European governments should urgently guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care for women and girls in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic, 100 nongovernmental organizations said on Wednesday.

Many women and girls in Europe are struggling to safely access abortion care during the pandemic as barriers caused by highly restrictive abortion laws and onerous administrative requirements to access abortion services make safe access to this essential health care extremely difficult. The call comes as Poland’s parliament prepares to debate a draconian new law that would make one of the region’s most highly restrictive abortion laws significantly more stringent.

“European governments must act urgently to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Leah Hoctor, Regional Director for Europe, Center for Reproductive Rights.

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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.”

Governments should recognize abortion as essential health care and should take measures to ensure that women and girls can safely access abortion care.

Most governments in the region have not implemented measures to ensure safe and timely access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, supplies or information during the pandemic, including for at-home management of medical abortion. Many hospitals and clinics have reduced reproductive health services to a bare minimum, or closed altogether due to staff shortages and reassignments, among other reasons. In many places, accessing normal clinical services has become extremely difficult.

Restrictions to reproductive health services disproportionately affect women living in poverty, women with disabilities, Roma women, undocumented migrant women, adolescents, trans and gender non-binary people, and women at risk of or who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Particular concerns arise in relation to those six European countries where abortion is still illegal or severely restricted and in countries where, due to a range of barriers such as administrative processes or doctor’s refusals of care due to their private beliefs, women are often forced to travel abroad to access abortion care or to obtain abortion medication from other countries by post.

The harmful impact of these highly restrictive laws and barriers are compounded in the current context as it may now be impossible for women to travel to access legal abortion abroad or to obtain medication sent by post from medical providers in other countries.

“Whilst the pandemic is impacting every aspect of our lives, it should not be used as an excuse to undermine women’s rights to make decisions regarding their reproductive and health rights,” said Caroline Hickson, IPPF EN Regional Director.

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