Women struggle to access abortion as pandemic adds to hurdles in Europe

By Demony Catarin

LISBON (Reuters) – Europe-wide helplines record higher requests for treatment as the pandemic of coronavirus contributes to the hurdles confronting many women facing abortion.

Although abortion is legal in much of Europe, women have failed to solve the pandemic in public health services.

Others were unable to flee violent husbands from lock-downs, NGOs and several people who wanted abortion to disclose it to Reuters.

Women also struggled to fly abroad in places where abortion is very limited, such as Poland, to end unintended pregnancy during pandemic grounded flights and closed boundaries.

Mara Clarke, chair of the United Kingdom-based Abortion Support (ASN) Network, said In some cases it made abortion catastrophically more complicated,"

The dispatch of abortion pills by post was challenging, as shipments took weeks to be shipped, as a standard procedure among groups supporting people where they are not accessible in significant quantities.

As Mother of Two Ania from Warsaw (Poland) found out she was pregnant in April she claimed that her miscarriages were twice, and that it was not the time to have a new infant.

"It was intense ... really hard," she said.

"If it wasn't for the pandemic I would have gone to another country - to Slovakia or the Czech Republic."

With aid of People on the Internet, an NGO that helps women in its condition, Ania, who refused to offer her surname out of fear of stigma finally managed to avoid her pregnancy.

In the strong Roman Catholic nation, she is one of thousands of people protesting in Poland against a court ruling last month that could lead to an almost complete ban on abortion.

"DANGEROUS"

Abortion Without Boundaries, Poland's helpline that was introduced in December 2019, earned almost 2,300 calls this year with a springboard in lockdown demands.

The most serious hit was woman in Malta's island-nation, the only European country in which abortion was outlawed and an airport shut down for months because of COVID-19.

Malta has almost doubled its call for an ASN helpline between 44 and 83 this year in 2019.

In Romania, where abortion is legally allowed within a 14-week limit, some women have been fighting for access to services as the Government finds it a "non-essential procedure"

In April, just 11% of the 112 state hospitals surveyed delivered abortions and none in the capital of Bucharest claimed to be in Romania's FILIA.

Experts warn that limitations on tackling a second wave of coronavirus could cause further problems, especially in countries with inadequate funding for healthcare systems.

An extra 2,7 million unsafe abortions have been estimated worldwidely by Marie Stopes International, a non-profit group promoting contraceptives and abortion care, as a result of disruptions to health facilities.

"The pandemic had an impact on reproductive health as a whole - because it was not considered a priority," says Teresa Bombas, a Portuguese Top Obstetrician.

Remote jobs and lock-offs often raise concerns for certain women with power spouses, said Rebecca Gomperts, the creator of Women on the Site, who were unwilling to quit.

Web applications were higher this year than anticipated based on previous years, particularly in Portugal, where the trials were largely hospitalized - with 34 applications, and in Northern Ireland - with 97 applications - where abortion was decriminalized in 2019.

Some governments took measures to fix the issue.

Women will now take termination drugs at home, outside of clinics, in England, Scotland and Wales, where it is permissible to have abortions within 24 weeks.

Jonathan Lord, the medical director of Marie Stopes UK who believes the measure is going to become permanent, states, "We see these big benefits.

However the right-wing organizations predict far more will face a battle for the pandemic in the next months.

"Half of all pregnancies are unplanned and people will look at the economic forecast right now and decide not to do it," said Clarke.

"We are in for a very hard 2021."

There was an error (Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Janet Lawrence)

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