Data shows that the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting women and girls; women hold one in three jobs that have been considered “essential” in the U.S., and women face increased demands in caregiving and housework all over the world. Another issue women are disproportionately facing are disruptions to their ability to access contraception, which puts them at risk for unwanted pregnancies.
“This crisis is dangerous for girls and women in so many ways,” Kimberly Kelly, director of gender studies and associate professor of sociology at Mississippi State University, told Supermajority News. “In some cases, medical offices are closed, and patients have nowhere else to go,” Kelly said, adding that women and girls are forgoing “medical appointments and filling prescriptions because of disruptions to their incomes and financial stability.”
These prescriptions include those for birth control. The UNFPA estimates that about 47 million people might not be able to access modern contraceptives if lockdowns remain in place globally. A minimal three-month lockdown could mean that 13 million women globally would be unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to 325,000 unintended pregnancies, per the UNFPA’s report. In the most severe scenario, with service shutdowns lasting for the next year, 51 million women in the world would be unable to use contraceptives, and this could lead to millions of unintended pregnancies.
“The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) Executive Director, said in a statement on Thursday.
In the U.S., this lack of contraceptive access is compounded by at least eight states, including Texas and Ohio, using the coronavirus as an excuse to limit and ban abortion by adding abortion to the list of non-essential procedures healthcare professionals should forgo performing in favor of focusing on coronavirus patients.
Kelly added that, in the long-term, there is no solution for this problem in the U.S. without universal healthcare. Still, there are things that legislators, healthcare providers, and activists can do right now to help women and girls suffering the consequences of this crisis.
“In the immediate present, removing barriers to access is key,” Kelly said, adding that people can “distribute free condoms and emergency contraception at food pantries, unemployment offices, and doctors’ offices. Convert contraceptive options such as the pill to over-the-counter status. In short, put the well-being of women and girls and their reproductive autonomy front and center as we continue to respond to COVID-19.”