This past year has been especially challenging for everyone. These challenges grow ever more prevalent when it comes to those combatting medical issues, even those separate from COVID-19. As the current pandemic has ravaged the American (and foreign) healthcare systems, other health issues have taken a backseat in the public consciousness. Providing the best possible care for those suffering from COVID-19 should certainly be prioritized during this time; however, major roadblocks have risen regarding women’s health and reproductive care in particular.
While policy decisions concerning private and public insurance coverage of abortive procedures always seem to be in flux, many reproductive clinics—like Planned Parenthood—accept a range of health insurance carriers and plans to at least partially absorb costs. Without any insurance coverage, an abortion can cost up to $1,000. In the United States, most insured adults depend on their places of employment for health insurance. However, in April 2020, the American unemployment rate “peaked at an unprecedented level” of 14.8%. Without employment, abortive care becomes somewhat inaccessible due to the intersection of underinsurance and lack of income.
It shouldn’t be an obstacle to get abortion care.— NARAL (@NARAL) February 23, 2021
And it shouldn’t be controversial to say that.
Despite the more generalized issue of accessibility, other obstacles have also stood in the way of those who need abortions. For instance, the availability of elective procedures is still somewhat limited in many areas of the country. Depending on the context and the state, surgical abortions can often be considered elective. Additionally, states with governments that are driven towards limiting abortion access have not been deterred by the pandemic. The six-week abortion bans that have been adopted by nearly half the country have continued to spread. South Carolina is the latest state to pass such a bill, called the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act.” It was passed on February 18th, but is currently suspended pending a lawsuit brought forward by Planned Parenthood. Moreover, “governors in a number of states have called for a halt to abortion care throughout the Covid-19 epidemic,” including those running Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma.
In other countries, like Colombia, it is possible to undergo a medical abortion--to get the “abortion pill”—following a telehealth visit with a doctor. The pill is shipped to the patient, who then induces their own abortion. In the United States, though, the pandemic has become a hurdle our country refuses to jump in order to ensure reproductive and women’s health. In fact, the United States requested that the U.N. remove “sexual and reproductive health services” from the Global Humanitarian Response Plan’s provisions last March. In his letter to the Secretary-General, acting administrator John Barsa contends that “the UN should not use this crisis as an opportunity to advance access to abortion as an ‘essential service.’” While other nations are creating practical modes of access to abortive care for their residents, the United States continues to limit access—going so far as to extend these limitations to the United Nations.
Even with access to abortions, some people have valid concerns about entering a medical facility during a pandemic, worried about COVID exposure. When it comes to states with stricter limitations of abortion access, many choose to travel across state lines for the procedure. This kind of travel has become more difficult during the pandemic, with certain states enforcing interstate travel restrictions that otherwise wouldn’t be an issue. Traveling at all becomes a lot more conspicuous when many stay home as much as possible, posing challenges for those seeking abortions covertly.
Fortunately, many organizations are working towards keeping abortion services as accessible as possible to those who require them. As previously mentioned, Planned Parenthood is currently working on a case to prevent South Carolina’s heartbeat bill. Planned Parenthood has taken a stance against the “opportunistic” abortion bans that have been cropping up during the pandemic. They have initiated legal battles all over the country to protect abortion access. You can donate to their cause here.
At the same time, Ipas, a non-profit that works on expanding access to reproductive health services, is currently in the process of advocating for expanded telehealth reproductive services worldwide. As COVID-19 has spread, Ipas has also been working in Africa, Asia, and the Americas to cohesively designate abortions as an “essential health service.” And, just this past month, the Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform requested that the FDA lift “the medically unnecessary in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, one of two prescription medications most commonly referred to as abortion pills.” Although widening abortion access is an uphill battle under the best of circumstances, the fight cannot be smothered by this pandemic.
For more information about personal access to abortion care and reproductive services, you can call the National Abortion Federation at 1-800-772-9100, or find your closest Planned Parenthood through their website.
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An intern here at Bust, Vanessa Wolosz is completing her bachelor's degree University of St Andrews, where she studies English and Comparative Literature. Her parents are happy to report that she is an honors student, and are significantly less happy to report that her interests lie in researching body art, reading sci-fi, bleaching her own hair, and not-having-a-boyfriend. You can follow her on Twitter, @memelover100, though doing so is not recommended.