Protecting and expanding abortion access during the COVID-19 pandemic

© Ipas

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the gender, racial and economic inequities in healthcare systems around the world that make it difficult for women, people of color, LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups to get the essential health care they need. These same structural inequities have long blocked equitable access to safe abortion care. 

During the pandemic, Ipas is working to ensure that abortion and contraceptive care remain essential health services—and that all people can access them. We know that sexual and reproductive health care is often neglected or difficult to access during a crisis, and disrupted supply chains can reduce access to contraceptives and safe abortion supplies. All these factors can in turn drive more people to seek unsafe abortions that risk their health and lives. We can’t let that happen. 

Make a difference

You can help us guarantee that women still have the power to make their own reproductive health choices during the pandemic. Our COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund supports innovative, fast-moving work to ensure that abortion remains an essential health service.

During the pandemic, Ipas is working to:

Expand women’s ability to access abortion without having to visit a health center, by building telehealth solutions and supporting women to self-manage abortion with pills

Ensure governments identify abortion as an essential health service

Give abortion providers the information, training and supplies they need—including personal protective equipment—to safely offer abortion and contraceptive care

Provide young people and communities with education on sexual and reproductive health

Telehealth and abortion with pills

With physical access to health centers severely limited in some settings during the pandemic, women need other ways to access abortion—such as telehealth services (which can refer for in-clinic care or provide abortion pills for home use) and self-management of abortion with pills. We’re working with partners to build telehealth programs and find innovative ways to reach women with the information and support they need to safely self-manage an abortion. 

Abortion as an essential health service

As COVID-19 began its global spread, Ipas and partners in Africa, Asia and the Americas began calling on governments and health systems to designate abortion care as an essential health service. We continue this advocacy work, aiming to both protect and expand abortion access during the pandemic. We’re also advocating for better protections against sexual violence, which is on the rise during the pandemic, and better access to sexual and reproductive health care for victims of violence.

Keeping women’s health essential despite COVID-19 shortages

Ipas staff and partners around the world are working furiously to protect access to contraception and abortion during the pandemic. Ipas President and CEO Anu Kumar shares examples of the innovative solutions that are emerging in this opinion piece published by CNN.

Anu Kumar

During COVID-19 crisis, lift barriers to reproductive health care — including abortion

As this pandemic continues to take the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world, the health and well-being of everyone is at stake. Governments and health systems need to look out for everyone — including the people who need an abortion. Ipas President and CEO Anu Kumar recommends some actions, including loosening restrictions on abortion self-care, and lifting regulations on abortion with pills and integrating into telemedicine services.

India says abortion is essential during COVID-19; telemedicine can make it accessible

By recognizing that women’s need for abortion is essential and urgent, the Government of India is showing that it cares about its people, says Anisha Aggarwal of the Ipas Development Foundation. But, she notes, in a time when “in-person client-doctor meeting is both risky and difficult, and denial or delay of services can have adverse outcomes, I strongly believe that it is time to harness the potential of telemedicine for abortions.”

Anisha Aggarwal 

Information, training and supplies for abortion providers

We’re working to give health providers the information, training and supplies they need—including personal protective equipment (PPE)—so they can safely offer abortion and contraceptive care during the pandemic. Our solutions include websites and mobile apps with specially tailored resources for health professionals, online trainings on infection prevention for providers and facility staff, and deliveries of needed PPE and other supplies such as contraceptives. 

Helping health workers prevent infection

In Mozambique, preventing COVID-19 and ensuring abortion care continues

Ipas Mozambique has a multifaceted approach to ensuring women and girls can still access needed reproductive health care—with minimal risk of COVID-19 infection—during the pandemic.

Ipas Mozambique staff engage community in SRHR during COVID-19

“We are mobilizing with one voice to make sure there is continuity of safe abortion, postabortion and contraceptive services during this challenging situation,” says Dr. Ghulam Shabbir Awan, director of Ipas Pakistan.

Ipas Development Foundation

In India, working to protect reproductive health and combat COVID-19

Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) in India is working to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the public health system, with efforts such as providing personal protective equipment and virtual trainings to health workers. “IDF is committed to keeping reproductive health on the national and state agendas and to strengthening partnerships to meaningfully improve the lives of women and girls across the country,” says IDF Chief Executive Officer Vinoj Manning in an article in The Good Sight.

‘Standing tall’ in the midst of a pandemic

Health workers across India whose pre-pandemic work revolved around providing reproductive health are still working to keep those services available whenever possible. Many are also stepping up to provide COVID-related services as well—even when it means putting their personal lives on hold. Here are three workers making this above-and-beyond effort:

Hilda Lakra, an auxiliary nurse midwife trained in comprehensive contraceptive care by the Ipas Development Foundation (IDF), wants to ensure that women continue to get contraceptive services during the pandemic. She had planned to get married on May 1, but postponed her wedding and has been staying in the staff quarters of a community health center in Jharkhand. She’s also been providing health services at shelter homes where hundreds of migrants are quarantined and assessed for symptoms of COVID-19.

Irani Bora Rajkhowa is affiliated with IDF’s program for young women in Assam. She is well-acquainted with the stigma surround abortion care and now is fighting against COVID stigma. When a family in Sonari village returned from a visit to Mumbai, residents were panicked, fearing that the family might be spreading the virus. She worked to educate villagers about the virus and to get COVID tests for the family (which were negative). She is now working to track and monitor people with a travel history, getting those with symptoms to testing centers—and she’s still supervising community health workers who assist with home deliveries of essential contraceptives.

Dr. Radhey Shyam Dautaniya is an IDF-trained abortion provider, but has now been called upon to work fulltime to conduct home screenings for COVID-19 in Jaipur, Rajasthan, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. He married only months ago, but because his work now exposes him to a lot of people, his wife is staying with her parents as he works round-the-clock to provide the vital screenings.

“These health workers are standing tall in the midst of the pandemic,” says Vinoj Manning, chief executive officer of IDF.  “We are inspired by their selfless work to fight COVID-19.”

Education on sexual and reproductive health

A major barrier facing women and girls who need abortion or contraception is a lack of basic information about sexual and reproductive health and how to access care. And right now, the pandemic is keeping millions of youth out of the classroom, where they would have received sexuality education. We’re working to reach young people and communities with essential health information so they’ll know how to access abortion care and contraception if needed. 

In Malawi, youth educators train chiefs to protect reproductive health during the pandemic

In Malawi, Ipas-trained youth educators on sexual and reproductive health and rights are meeting with chiefs (local community leaders) in Ndirande to help them understand how to prevent unintended pregnancies in their communities. The youth educators also work with them to protect sexual and reproductive health services as essential services that must continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. In parts of Malawi, unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion among young people appears to be rising sharply due to COVID-19 and its impact on communities.

A youth-led call for abortion law reform

Young people in Malawi are calling for the protection of sexual and reproductive health care as an essential service during the coronavirus pandemic—and also are asking lawmakers to expedite abortion law reform to ensure young people’s access to safe abortion care.

IDF

IDF

Youth leaders provide crucial reproductive health information during pandemic

Youth leaders trained by Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) in India are getting back to work providing much-needed information on sexual and reproductive health—including on contraception and pregnancy prevention—to the young men and women in their communities. They’re also referring young people for needed care at local health centers.

“In this time of crisis, it is heartening for me to see that men are supportive of the reproductive health needs of their female family members and are approaching me for referrals,” says male youth leader Shashi Bhushan Soy.

Hear more from Shashi Bhushan Soy and from female youth leader Soni Karwa on IDF’s Facebook page.

 

Partnering to prevent unsafe abortion in the context of COVID-19

As part of our ongoing work to keep abortion and contraception care available during the COVID-19 crisis, Ipas is collaborating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and several global reproductive health organizations to prevent unsafe abortion and support women’s and girls’ health, rights and well-being during the pandemic.

“Sexual and reproductive health commodities and services are already limited in many settings and are becoming more difficult to access during COVID-19. It is important that we combine our efforts,” says Dr. Bela Ganatra of the WHO Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research. One focus will be collaborating at global, regional and country levels to promote successful strategies such as telemedicine and self-managed abortion to ensure access to reproductive health care during the pandemic.

 

Explore Ipas’s work during the pandemic by region

Africa

In Malawi, youth educators train chiefs to protect reproductive health during the pandemic

In Malawi, Ipas-trained youth educators on sexual and reproductive health and rights are meeting with chiefs (local community leaders) in Ndirande to help them understand how to prevent unintended pregnancies in their communities. The youth educators also work with them to protect sexual and reproductive health services as essential services that must continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. In parts of Malawi, unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion among young people appears to be rising sharply due to COVID-19 and its impact on communities.

In Mozambique, preventing COVID-19 and ensuring abortion care continues

A youth-led call for abortion law reform

Young people in Malawi are calling for the protection of sexual and reproductive health care as an essential service during the coronavirus pandemic—and also are asking lawmakers to expedite abortion law reform to ensure young people’s access to safe abortion care.

Asia

Youth leaders provide crucial reproductive health information during pandemic

Youth leaders trained by Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) in India are getting back to work providing much-needed information on sexual and reproductive health—including on contraception and pregnancy prevention—to the young men and women in their communities. They’re also referring young people for needed care at local health centers.

“In this time of crisis, it is heartening for me to see that men are supportive of the reproductive health needs of their female family members and are approaching me for referrals,” says male youth leader Shashi Bhushan Soy.

Telehealth initiative answers ‘the need of the hour’ in Pakistan

‘Mobilizing with one voice’ in Pakistan

Ghulam Shabbir

We are mobilizing with one voice to make sure there is continuity of safe abortion, postabortion and contraceptive services during this challenging situation,” says Dr. Ghulam Shabbir Awan, director of Ipas Pakistan.

In India, working to protect reproductive health and combat COVID-19

Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) in India is working to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the public health system, with efforts such as providing personal protective equipment and virtual trainings to health workers. “IDF is committed to keeping reproductive health on the national and state agendas and to strengthening partnerships to meaningfully improve the lives of women and girls across the country,” says IDF Chief Executive Officer Vinoj Manning in an article in The Good Sight.

‘Standing tall’ in the midst of a pandemic

Health workers across India whose pre-pandemic work revolved around providing reproductive health are still working to keep those services available whenever possible. Many are also stepping up to provide COVID-related services as well—even when it means putting their personal lives on hold. Here are three workers making this above-and-beyond effort.

Americas

In Bolivia, an influx of women seeking information on abortion with pills

Partnering with Bolivia’s police to protect reproductive rights

Bolivia has been under a strict nationwide lockdown, creating challenges for women who need to access contraception or abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic.