Reproductive health care in the time of COVID-19


It is often said that a crisis brings out the best and worst in people, and I think we are definitely seeing that when it comes to the responses to reproductive health, family planning, and abortion care during this global pandemic.

Dr. Sarah Prager, University of Washington, Seattle

Dr. Sarah Prager

Many national and international organizations have published strong statements of support for the importance of continuing reproductive health services. These organizations include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Society of Family Planning, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Society of Family Planning, American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They state the obvious, which is that abortion is a time-sensitive procedure, and it cannot be delayed until the end of this COVID-19 pandemic.

We do not have complete knowledge of what the novel coronavirus 2019 does to a developing pregnancy, especially early in pregnancy. Many people who are struggling with all the uncertainty of this time – job, health, housing, food, school – may decide it is not the best moment to be adding to their family.

These concerns apply as well to the need to maintain and prioritize contraceptive services. Stay-at-home orders have put people in close quarters for long periods of time, and we are already getting reports of increased sexual intercourse, as well as increased sexual violence, both of which could result in a need for abortion if contraception is not accessible. Additionally, many women are expressing a concern for whether they will still have a job or have a job again when this first wave of the crisis passes, so they are wanting to access contraception now when they can afford to do so.

I was personally very proud of and grateful to Barbara A. Goff, MD, the chair of my department at the University of Washington, Seattle, for stating clearly in the first email she sent to faculty about canceling elective procedures and visits that family planning and abortion is not elective. My heart goes out to my colleagues and the patients who are in states that are using this opportunity to act poorly and use COVID-19 as another excuse to legislate against abortion and contraception. It demonstrates horrifying gender discrimination during a time when we should really be focusing on keeping everyone healthy.

I predict there will be an increase in the numbers of abortions after this crisis ebbs, and an increase in the numbers of term deliveries. The time to influence that is now.

Dr. Prager is professor of obstetrics and gynecology, chief of the family planning division, and director of the family planning fellowship at the University of Washington, Seattle. She also is professor of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Paul’s Hospital and Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Dr. Prager is a member of the Ob.Gyn. News editorial advisory board. She said she has no relevant financial disclosures. Email Dr. Prager at [email protected].

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