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Denying Women Abortion Access in Moscow

Abortion Is Essential Health Care, Even in a Pandemic


A woman wearing face mask sits in the train at the subway during the mandatory self-isolation amid coronavirus disease outbreak, in Moscow, Russia, April 2020. © 2020 Vladimir Pesnya / Sputnik via AP

Many Moscow hospitals are denying women essential abortion care as the authorities are trying to curb the spread of Covid-19, a leading Russian women’s rights group says. But women and girls have the right to access safe abortion services, even during a pandemic.

After Russia’s Minister of Health stated that planned non-urgent procedures should be postponed to avoid overcrowding of hospitals as part of its Covid-19 response and the Moscow mayor issued instructions to “preparе healthcare facilities for receiving and promptly providing medical care to patients with respiratory symptoms,” Nasiliyu.Net, (or No-to-violence in English), a group raising awareness around and supporting survivors of domestic violence, resolved to look into abortion access.

Its staff called 44 hospitals across Moscow – basically all the public hospitals they could identify that usually perform abortions – and posed as women seeking abortions. According to Anna Rivina, the group’s head, only three hospitals agreed to schedule the procedure.

On its website, Moscow’s health department explains that treatment for cancer and certain other conditions won’t be interrupted. But it says nothing about abortion, which is an essential time-sensitive medical procedure that cannot be delayed.

When a Nasiliyu.Net representative called the health department to inquire about abortion, she was told that given the pandemic-related priorities, numerous hospitals in Moscow suspended the procedure.

A lawyer working with domestic violence cases also told me that at least two people contacted her because hospitals refused to schedule an abortion.

Russian law stipulates that an abortion can be performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for any reason.

Moscow is Russia’s Covid-19 epicenter, with 45,351 people recorded as infected – more than half of the country’s total infections – leaving 435 people dead as of April 27. But as the authorities struggle to meet the increased demand on the health care system, they should also recognize abortion as essential health care and take measures to ensure that women and girls can access it in a timely manner. For example, authorities could ensure enough facilities provide abortion services, and instruct all providers to inform women where they can obtain the procedure.

Research shows that restricting or criminalizing abortion simply drives women to seek abortion through means that may put their lives and health at risk. A woman’s ability to make this choice affects every aspect of her life, and that of her family. Russia’s authorities should ensure that women receive this essential care.

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