Corona had an impact on politics, society and the economy. No sector was spared. Thus, the pandemic also had an impact on the field of sexual and reproductive Health and Rights. Julia Konowrocka addressed this issue in her article “Let’s talk about sexual and reproductive Health and Rights: Not fully implemented before Covid-19 & suspended during the pandemic”. We judge her claim that access to sexual and reproductive health and rights has become more complicated to be mostly true.
The article, published on equineteurope.org on September 14, 2020, includes the claim: “During COVID-19, access to SRHR has become more complicated than before” and is about the current situation regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the European Union during the Covid19 pandemic. The author, Julia Konowrocka, is Policy & Communication Assistant at Equinet, the European network of Equivalent Bodies.
To clarify what the following fact check is about, here is a brief explanation of what sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are and what they are for.
SRHR is an umbrella term for various issues that affect men and women equally. They represent four separate areas: sexual health, sexual rights, reproductive health, and reproductive rights.
SRHR thus encompass issues such as abortion, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, maternal health and rights, contraceptive access, gender-based violence, discrimination and stigma, and much more.
Germany and the European Parliament on abortion and SRHR during the Corona pandemic
On March 24, 2021 a press release published by Federal Office of Statistics shows that the number of abortions in 2020 in Germany compared to the year 2010 slightly decreased. Problem: the time window is 10 years. It would be more helpful if the figures referred to the previous year. Therefore, further research was carried out. The Federal Statistical Office in Germany also published a press release per quarter year, comparing it to the same quarter in the previous year. This shows that in the 1st quarter of 2020, abortions decreased by 2.0% compared to the previous year. In turn, there were 2.8% more abortions in the 2nd quarter of 2020 than in the 2nd quarter of 2019. But in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2020, abortion rates were again lower than in the comparable quarters in 2019, but so insignificantly that it cannot be concluded that this can be attributed to Covid-19.
Fact is that the European Parliament is well aware of the sometimes-inadequate consideration of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) during the pandemic. This clearly emerges from a plenary session on March 21, 2021, in which the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (CoE), Dunja Mijatović, admits that SRHR is currently of great relevance despite the pandemic and cautions that it should not be relegated to the background because of Corona.
Furthermore, the plenary session document on “The gender perspective in the COVID-19 crisis and post-crisis period” indicates that there were cancellations or postponements of “non-essential” health services in the wake of the pandemic. It also clarifies “that in this context, access to sexual and reproductive health care and services has been impeded with serious consequences, and legal attempts have been made in some Member States to restrict the right to safe and legal abortion, considering that women’s critical needs include access to maternity care and safe delivery, availability of contraceptives, safe abortions and in vitro fertilization services, and arrangements for clinical treatment in the event of rape.”
Other areas of SRHR during the pandemic
In addition to abortion, issues such as surrogacy and access to period products are also part of SRHR. The Center for Reproductive Rights summarized the issues from individual EU countries. Particularly in the area of SRHR, it is evident, for example, in Ukraine that the transfer of babies created in surrogacy is more difficult during the Covid pandemic than it was before. Due to travel restrictions, the babies cannot be handed over to their new families, as the families mostly live abroad.
Based on research insights in the wake of the Corona pandemic, there was the following political handling of the situation in 47 countries in Europe:
- Prohibition of abortions (Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Poland)
- Suspension of abortions (Hungary)
- Restricted access to abortions (Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Slovenia, England, Wales, and Scotland.). No pregnancy limits for abortions were extended here.
- Changes to reduce face-to-face consultations (Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland).
- Abortion via telemedicine (Denmark, Sweden, Wales, Scotland, France, and Ireland).
- Pharmacy access to prescribed mifepristone (Denmark, France).
Measures such as telemedicine have reduced waiting times for women seeking abortions in countries such as Denmark, England, Ireland and France. In addition, these countries also show a decreased risk of infection for women and local hospital staff, explains Dr. Edward Morris (President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists).
In summary, the claim: “During the COVID-19 pandemic and the lock down measures that followed, access to SRHR has become even more complicated than before” can be classified as mostly true.
This is mainly due to the fact that several documents prove the impact of the Corona pandemic on the access to SRHR. However, it is difficult to determine how to evaluate the term “complicated” in the claim and whether the difficult access to SRHR has resulted in more health problems. This makes it difficult to classify the claim as “true”. Our conclusion: This claim is currently mostly true.
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