Women of color faced increasing barriers to birth control during COVID

Structural inequities in health care existed before COVID, but the pandemic intensified them. Across the US, critical services have shifted, if not stopped entirely due to COVID-19. As hospitals and clinics have reduced hours for non-urgent care, including preventive, prenatal, and contraception care, delayed abortion procedures, and imposed restrictions during labor and delivery, women’s ability to exercise reproductive autonomy has become increasingly strained.

Bixby members Jennifer Kerns and Nadia Diamond-Smith and colleagues released the first findings from the COVID-19 Impacts on Reproduction in the United States (CIRUS) Study, the first national study to explore cisgender women’s experiences seeking reproductive health care at multiple points throughout the pandemic. Researchers recruited English- and Spanish-speaking women ages 18-45 through Facebook and Instagram ads and surveyed them in July 2020 and January 2021.

More than half of women faced increasing barriers to birth control as the COVID pandemic raged on. The percentage of women who would be using a different method of birth control if it weren’t for COVID rose from 14% early in the pandemic to 22% mid-pandemic. Women of color and those experiencing income loss and hunger were even more likely to face barriers and not be using their preferred method.

The most common barriers to contraceptive care that women listed were not being able to have a support person with them; clinics being closed; being afraid to go to the clinic; having to shelter in place; and not having time due to childcare/household responsibilities.

These findings can help reproductive health providers, policymakers and advocates develop ways to mitigate these effects and address the impact of current and future crises.