Advocates sound alarm over COVID-19 limiting access to contraceptives, abortion

The COVID-19 outbreak has hit sexual-health services from almost every angle

Limited access to contraceptives and services because of COVID-19 is likely to lead to a surge in unintended pregnancies, according to sexual-health advocates.

Darrah Teitel with Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights has already noticed a big increase in the number of people calling its helpline in distress.

“We’re looking at a huge number of unintended pregnancies, probably,” Teitel said, unless something is done soon to make those services more available.

Otherwise, she said, the pandemic could lead to dire consequences for people’s sexual health, particularly for more vulnerable people.

The COVID-19 outbreak has hit sexual-health services from almost every angle, from contraceptive supply to access to tests for sexually transmitted infections.

One advocate said it is also already limiting access to abortions for some people.

“There definitely are some impacts based on larger hospital priorities to prepare for an influx in COVID-19 patients,” said Jill Doctoroff, the Canadian director of the National Abortion Federation, a professional association for abortion providers.

While hospitals consider access to abortions to be essential, she said those services have been sidelined or shut down completely in some institutions during the pandemic.

Public health measures have further complicated access to abortion services, which requires travel for people in some parts of the country, she said. Some clinics based outside hospitals have started to restrict their catchment areas to abide by advice to limit travel.

Doctoroff said she got a call for help from one patient whose abortion appointment was cancelled for that reason, leaving her unsure where to go or what to do.

That’s a problem because abortions are obviously a time-sensitive affair, she said. Sometimes Canadians can access late-term abortions in the United States, but that’s made more difficult by border closures and flight cancellations.

Meanwhile, many pharmacies have had to ration medications, including birth control, to one-month supplies to avoid shortages, according to the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

They have also noted a more limited supply of condoms, and they aren’t alone.

“We are definitely hearing about condom shelves being empty,” Teitel said.

Several factories in Malaysia have at least partially shut down operations over concerns about the virus, putting further strain on supply. That includes Karex, the company that bills itself as the world’s largest manufacturer of condoms.

That impact may not be fully felt for a few months, according to Perry Maclean, president of Pamco Distributing, which provides condoms to public health agencies and clinics.

For now, he hasn’t had a problem because the factories had good inventory on hand and the orders he’s received have been typical. But there are increasing issues with freight and factory closures that could have an impact down the line.

“We don’t want a spike in STIs because people can’t get products,” Maclean said.

Sexual-health clinics that would normally treat those potential sexually transmitted infections are also struggling. They are allowed to stay open because they are considered essential, but the circumstances make it difficult to provide the same level of service.

In Ottawa, the sexual-health clinic run by Ottawa Public Health provide low-cost birth control, counselling and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Like others across the country, it has had to shut down in-person services except for urgent appointments.

Some, like Planned Parenthood Ottawa, have turned to putting condoms and other sexual-health products in a bowl outside their front door, like Halloween candy, Teitel said.

It’s particularly problematic for provinces that had seen a recent surge in sexually transmitted infections before the pandemic began, she said. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have both recently declared outbreaks of syphilis.

She believes all those factors together could mean unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in a few months.

“These services are legally determined to be essential services because they’re life-saving, and they impact most vulnerable people first,” she said.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

More than 900 masks made through Rossland’s #Masks4all campaign

The campaign was launched in late April to get more residents to wear masks during COVID-19 crisis

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary rescinds all Grand Forks-area evacuation orders

Evacuation alerts for 1,136 Boundary properties remain in effect as officials monitor forecasts

Pay guarantee removed for some Kootenay on-call paramedics

Guarantee phased out as BCEHS introduces a new “scheduled on call” model

City of Rossland looks to electrify vehicles and equipment

City council passed three motions on June 1 to work towards commitment

No active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Interior Health: BCCDC

Numbers from the BCCDC’s dashboard show 193 of the 195 COVID-19 cases in the region have recovered

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Kelowna Mountie on desk duty following ‘aggressive’ arrest

The officer involved in an arrest that took place on May 30 in Kelowna has been placed on administrative duties

Protests shift to memorializing George Floyd amid push for change

‘There is something better on the other side of this,’ says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom

Columbia Basin Trust expands programming to support businesses

The revised programs will help local businesses to reopen and modify operations

Limit gun capacity to five bullets, victims group urges Trudeau government

Current limits are generally five bullets for hunting rifles and shotguns and 10 for handguns.

Most Read