The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on access to abortion care

Independent abortion clinics have experienced considerable challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and public health measures like quarantine requirements, school closures and travel restrictions. In some regions, politicians used the pandemic as an excuse to impose stricter restrictions on abortion clinics. Researchers from ANSIRH surveyed and interviewed clinic employees to understand how the pandemic, politicized responses and pre-existing restrictive abortion policies impacted abortion clinics

Researchers found that, regardless of the region where clinics are located, independent abortion clinics have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions designed to protect public health. Clinics have had to cancel and postpone health services, including abortion care, and have made substantial changes to their work schedules and clinic flow procedures. More clinics in the South and Midwest than the Northeast and West reported having had to temporarily close their clinics and having to cancel or postpone abortion services. Half of independent clinics in all regions reported having a clinician or staff member unable to work due to the pandemic itself or public health restrictions.

Although healthcare providers have faced challenges across the board, researchers found that abortion clinics and patients in the South and, in some cases, the Midwest, have also been affected by politicized responses to COVID-19 (such as declarations of abortion as a non-essential service) and abortion restrictions that were already in place before the pandemic. Pre-existing restrictive abortion policies, such as laws mandating in-person counseling and laws banning telemedicine for abortion, impeded their ability to adopt some of the clinic flow and clinical innovations that they otherwise would have implemented in response to the pandemic.

Going forward, there remains a need for additional research to understand the impact that abortion service delays and clinic closures have on patients, particularly in the South and Midwest. Additional research should aim to assess whether any clinics have closed permanently as a result of the pandemic or the responses by public health officials or anti-abortion politicians. Public health officials might also consider including abortion clinics in their efforts to plan around pandemic responses in the future.