As the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, shutdowns and other social-distancing measures are upending daily life around the world, and reproductive-rights advocates say that access to abortion, contraception and other health services is no exception.
"Things that should be routine and easy are becoming much more complex," says Dr. Nina Ball, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a consultant with the advocacy group Cobalt. "Life is changing as we all try to act in the most socially conscious way and avoid trips out of the house that are not necessary and keep distance from others to stop the spread of COVID-19."
During a virtual town hall hosted Monday, March 23, by Cobalt — formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado — Ball stressed the importance of continuing to practice safe sex and ensure access to reproductive care, even as the pandemic's economic fallout and disruptions to the health system escalate.
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"Love and intimacy are going to help us all get through this strange time, so if you're having sex, make sure you're being safe," Ball said. While video chats and other "social distance dates" are good options during the COVID-19 outbreak, for those who do require contraception, Ball and other reproductive-rights advocates are urging health insurers, providers and pharmacies to be flexible with their patients, including by offering tele-health services and refilling prescriptions without in-person visits.
Most Coloradans who have a birth-control prescription should be able to receive up to a twelve-month supply from their provider under a law that was passed by state lawmakers in 2017 and took effect last year. For patients who don't yet have a prescription, online options like Planned Parenthood Direct and Nurx can provide birth control and other medical services without in-person visits, and in some cases without health insurance.
"Unfortunately, some forms of birth control will be difficult to access while minimizing contact and risk," Ball said. "IUDs, for example, require an in-person visit. If you do really want this option, you can call your provider and talk about it — some clinics may continue to do these visits."
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which provides abortion and other reproductive-health services in Colorado and other Western states, says it is "continuing to take urgent and time-sensitive appointments and care for our patients." But visitors are temporarily barred from accompanying patients inside Planned Parenthood facilities, and patients exhibiting fever or respiratory symptoms are being asked to reschedule their appointments.
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Abortions are considered essential health services in Colorado, Cobalt advocates said Monday, and therefore aren't subject to an executive order issued last week by Governor Jared Polis ordering providers to postpone "all voluntary or elective surgeries or procedures" until at least April 14. By contrast, Republican-led states like Texas and Ohio have taken steps to halt abortion procedures during the pandemic, and Colorado activists say they're on guard for attempts to restrict access here — including a proposed ballot initiative to ban abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy.
The sponsors of that measure have filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State's Office seeking an extended signature-gathering deadline because of coronavirus concerns, a move that Cobalt president Karen Middleton called "offensive and wrong."
For now, Ball and other advocates are encouraging Coloradans to follow guidance from public-health officials and reach out to their health providers with any questions they may have. As the world faces the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, it's important for people to stay healthy — not only physically, but mentally, too.
"Take care of yourself," Ball said. "This is a very stressful and very anxiety-inducing time. Your mental health is very important right now."