Lockdown carries increased risk of unplanned pregnancies

Women who have unplanned pregnancies will now be forced towards adoption, care, kinship care or parenting. Picture: Shutterstock
Women who have unplanned pregnancies will now be forced towards adoption, care, kinship care or parenting. Picture: Shutterstock

Sexual health experts have warned of an increased rate of unplanned pregnancies in Canberra as a result of coronavirus.

Family planning organisation, Maria Stopes had to reschedule and cancel abortion appointments for women on later gestation surgical lists at all their clinics.

The policy, designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus by limiting non-essential medical procedures, meant patients have been forced to continue with unwanted pregnancies.

A report released this week found some were experiencing fetal anomalies, some will experience stillbirth and all were experiencing some aspect of hardship.

The women will now be forced towards one of the remaining options of adoption, care, kinship care or parenting, the report found.

Director of public affairs Jacquie O'Brien said they expected the Canberra clinic to echo trends felt across Australia.

"What we suspect is happening is that people wanting an abortion may not think they can access one with the current restrictions, especially on elective surgery," Ms O'Brien said.

"The key thing for people to know is that abortion is classified by governments as an essential Category 1 service and people can access them during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Ms O'Brien said while the coronavirus had not made it difficult for Canberra women to access earlier gestation terminations, the concern was what was to come.

"What we do fear is that people may delay accessing a termination and that could limit their options and access later on," she said.

Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT executive cirector Tim Bavinton said escalated domestic violence resulting from more time at home put women at an increased risk of unplanned pregnancies.

Mr Bavinton said higher levels of domestic violence, elevated financial stress as a result of coronavirus and a lack of clarity around whether abortions were available contributed to concerns.

The Civic-based centre shut down face-to-face consultations throughout April, with clients accessing the service via telehealth until restrictions are lifted, presumably some time this month.

Mr Bavinton said the centre has continued to provide referrals to abortion clinics and general practitioners, screen asymptomatic patients concerned about sexually-transmitted infections and arrange contraception prescriptions over the phone.

He said a priority for the service this month as it looks to phase in face-to-face consultations will be to increase access to contraceptives beyond existing clients, reintroduce treatment for STIs and resume cervical-screening appointments.

Mr Bavington said a public misconception about elective surgeries is that rescheduling them is risk free.

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He pointed to cervical screening as an example of a service where the risk versus benefit to the patient of going ahead with the appointment now needed to be reassessed.

"It's a very different balance than it was a few weeks ago, especially if we continue to see low instances of community transmission," Mr Bavington said.

Urgent and essential care has continued at the Canberra Sexual Health Centre, however, face-to-face check-ups for patients without symptoms or higher risk factors for STIs are currently not available.

An ACT government spokesperson said no date had been set for a return to full walk-in service. The decision will be guided by the Chief Health Officer, the spokesperson said.

This story Lockdown carries increased risk of unplanned pregnancies first appeared on The Canberra Times.