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Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for comment, interviews and information. 

If you’re interested in speaking with our media team, please email us or telephone (+44) 07769 166 516.

We have spokespeople from both the UK and other countries in which we work, who are available for media comment. Our global media team is happy to arrange interviews with representatives from our country programmes, or from our global support office.

Latest press releases

28.01.2021: MSI Reproductive Choices statement on the repeal of the Global Gag Rule

Simon Cooke, CEO of MSI Reproductive Choices said:

 “Four years ago, with one stroke of the presidential pen, Trump undid years of progress on global reproductive rights causing untold pain to millions of women and limiting their opportunities for the future. Today, we celebrate as Biden begins to right that wrong: revoking the Global Gag Rule and making the US once again a global force for good in family planning access.

“We have never and will never sign the Gag Rule because we know that safe abortion is a vital component of reproductive healthcare: agreeing to its conditions would mean turning our backs on the 35 million women each year who are so desperate to end their pregnancy that they will put their lives on the line with an unsafe abortion.

“For the entirety of Trump’s administration, this decision has reduced our donor income by USD $30 million a year: funding that had previously supported us to reach an estimated 2 million women with information and voluntary family planning services annually. Since 2017, generous partners have helped to protect these services and today we call on those women’s rights advocates not to falter at the last hurdle. As Biden and Harris enter office and this stop-gap funding subsides the future of reproductive healthcare is still hanging in the balance.

“Today marks the first step towards a brighter future but there is still a steep hill to climb and we call on partners who believe in a woman’s right to choose, not to let Trump’s policy out-live his presidency. Now more than ever we need new partnerships, continued support and continued funding, so we can reach women and girls with lifesaving services when and where they need them.”

Global Gag Rule Factbox 

  • Before the reinstatement of Trump’s Global Gag Rule, MSI worked in partnership with USAID across our mobile outreach and public sector strengthening channels, helping us to reach an estimated 2 million women with information and voluntary family planning services every year.
  • These services prevented  an  estimated 1.5 million unintended pregnancies, 450,000 unsafe abortions and 5,000 maternal deaths annually.  Many of these clients were  women living in poverty  and  women  living in remote, rural areas  who had no other access to services.
  • The Gag Rule was further expanded under Trump meaning compliant USAID grantees, could not enter into a contractual relationship with any non-compliant organisations unless they were willing to forgo their USAID funds also. This restricted partnerships and innovation by limiting the diversity of partnerships that other donors can invest in and destroyed integrated health services.
  • We have never and will never sign the Gag Rule because we know that safe abortion is a vital part of reproductive healthcare. Agreeing to its conditions would mean turning our backs on the 35 million women each year who resort to unsafe abortion.
  • There are also currently 218 million worldwide who want to access contraception but can’t get it. The Global Gag Rule has further limited contraceptive access and led to a rise in maternal deaths. 
  • But despite  losing  one of our most important partners, MSI’s work to improve equity  in healthcare access has continued. Of  the 28,000  clients  our teams  serve  every day, 1 in 4 are living under $1.90, 43% are first-time contraception users, and 15% are under 20 years old.  
  • When the Global Gag Rule was reinstated, generous partners  stepped  up to plug the funding gap. Yet, as  Biden and Harris enter office and  this stop-gap funding  subsides, MSI  faces a $13.5 million funding  shortfall. In real terms, this is the equivalent of 650,000 reproductive healthcare services delivered by our mobile outreach teams. 
  • Combined with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in 9 million fewer clients served between January and June 2020 than originally forecast for the same period, many MSI services still hang in the balance. 

 

17.11.2020: Marie Stopes International announces new name as it launches a new strategy

London - Tuesday, 17th November 2020: Today, Marie Stopes International is putting choice front and centre with a new strategy and a new name – MSI Reproductive Choices.  

The global safe abortion and contraception provider’s new name intentionally breaks with its connection to Marie Stopes the woman and heralds MSI’s bold new vision for the futurethat by 2030 no abortion will be unsafe and everyone who wants contraception will be able to access it.  

Simon Cooke, Chief Executive of MSI Reproductive Choices said:  

“Marie Stopes was a pioneer of family planning; however, she was also a supporter of the eugenics movement and expressed many opinions which are in stark contrast to MSI’s core values and principles. The name of the organisation has been a topic of discussion for many years and the events of 2020 have reaffirmed that changing our name now is the right decision. As we look to the future with our new 10-year strategy, we are reflecting our fundamental focus in our new name, MSI Reproductive Choices.” 

MSI was founded in 1976 by Dr Tim Black, Jean Black and Phil Harvey, who took over the clinic on the site of the original Marie Stopes’ Mothers Clinic in central London and who named the organisation in recognition of the origins of that historic building and Marie Stopes pioneering work. 

Cooke said: Our founders believed that by providing high quality, compassionate and comprehensive contraceptive and abortion care, they could support women’s empowerment, and their vision is just as relevant today as it was in 1976. 

“This decade has opened with many uncertainties, but what we can be sure of is that the need for sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights will remain universal and urgent. The international community is failing the 25 million women who each year have no choice but to resort to an abortion that is unsafe, and the 230 million women and girls who want access to contraception but can’t get it. If no additional action is taken, the number of women and girls with no access could increase to 300 million by 2030, yet it costs less than 2 pence per day to protect a young woman from an unintended pregnancy, giving her the chance to stay in school, forge a career, support her family or even save her life.” 

Closing the gap 

For over 40 years, MSI has trusted women to make choices that are right for them, and its new strategy, MSI 2030 Your Body, Your Choice, Your Future, sets out how it will partner with others to make reproductive choice a reality for allsupporting women and girls to break the cycle of poverty, stay in education and contribute to improving their lives and communities.  

What MSI will do? 

Over the next 10 years MSI commits to reaching at least 120 million women and girls with voluntary high-quality sexual and reproductive healthcare services, focusing on the poorest and most marginalised: women with no alternative access, adolescents, people living in extreme poverty and displaced communities. It will partner across the public and private sector to ensure women are only one contact away from a safe, high-quality service.  

In many places, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted access to contraception and abortion services and seen violence against women and girls intensify. However, it has also been a catalyst for positive change, speeding up the introduction of telemedicine, to prevent unnecessary exposure to the virusMSI will continue to advocate for women to access services on their terms, whether remotely or in a clinicworking with partners to remove barriers and harnessing digital technology to give women control, information and services at their fingertips, thereby ensuring they never feel alone in making their reproductive choices.  

How will MSI do it? 

As the organised rollback of reproductive healthcare and women’s rights continues, MSI will work with partners to remove unnecessary restrictions that cost lives and will use its role as a service provider to normalise these lifesaving services. It will forge new partnerships with governments and donors to fund high-quality, sustainable and accessible servicesmaking the case for reproductive choice as a key component in building a better, more equal world for allMSI teams are already rooted in the communities where they work and the organisation commits to further shifting decision-making to its country programmes, elevating the voices of its clients and harnessing local and national connections to lead to more community-driven, client-centred care.  

Cooke added: We know the benefits that diversity brings, enabling our workforce to be truly global both in location and approach and we are committed to developing and increasing regional, national and female leadership.  

“With women and girls facing the brunt of daunting global challenges such as inequality, the global pandemic and the impact of the climate crisis, we have a long road ahead of us. But reproductive choice is a key pillar in the drive for gender equality and in a future where women and girls take their rightful place in all aspects of society. We are determined that, alongside our partners, we will leave no-one behind. Only when choice is a reality for each of us, can we create a better, more sustainable world for everyone.”  

- Ends -  

Notes to Editors  

For interviews and further information please contact:   

Email: press@mariestopes.org    
Tel: (+44) 07769 166 516  

From Tuesday, November 17th: 

  •  The name of the global organisation and Marie Stopes UK will change to MSI Reproductive Choices 
  • The global domain name will change from mariestopes.org to msichoices.org and UK domain name will change from mariestopes.org.uk to msichoices.org.uk 
  • Email addresses of global support office staff will change from mariestopes.org to msichoices.org and for UK staff from mariestopes.org.uk to msichoices.org.uk 
  • Social media handles will migrate to @msichoices with the exception of LinkedIn and Facebook, which will change to reflect our new name in full: MSI Reproductive Choices 
  • Redirects will be set up for old emails, websites and social media accounts  

About MSI Reproductive Choices 

MSI is a global organisation providing contraception and safe abortion services to women and girls in 37 countries. We believe that every woman and girl must determine her own future, and the high-quality services we provide give a woman the power to pursue her dreams for herself and her family.  

19.08.2020: 1.9m clients lost access to our services due to COVID-19

London - Wednesday, 19th August 2020MSI reveals new data showing that 1.9 million[i] women and girls have lost access to its contraception and safe abortion services in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the 37 countries where it works, MSI estimates that the loss of its services between January and June will lead to:

  • 900,000 additional unintended pregnancies [ii]
  • 1.5 million additional unsafe abortions[iii]
  • 3,100 additional pregnancy-related deaths[iv]

Despite the challenges, MSI’s providers have worked tirelessly to adapt and innovate and today’s data shows that the impact on its services has not been as grave as initially expected.[v] But the human impact is still devastating, with MSI’s Asia programmes facing the greatest challenges.

In India a particularly strict lockdown has resulted in 1.3 million[vi] fewer women served than forecasted, with 920,000[vii] fewer safe abortion and post-abortion care services being delivered – 90%[viii] less than predicted. Due to this drop in services, it is estimated that there will be an additional 1 million[ix] unsafe abortions, an additional 650,000[x] unintended pregnancies and 2,600[xi] maternal deaths, due to lack of access to MSI’s services alone.

Dr Rashmi Ardey, Director of Clinical Services at MSI’s India programme FRHS said:

“Women’s needs do not suddenly stop or diminish during an emergency—they become greater. And as doctor I have seen only too often the drastic action that women and girls take when they are unable to access contraception and safe abortion.

“This pandemic has strained healthcare services all over the world, but sexual and reproductive healthcare was already so under prioritised that once again women are bearing the brunt of this global calamity.”

The impact of COVID-19 on women’s lives and reproductive health

To better understand how COVID-19 has impacted women’s access and rights, MSI commissioned a survey with Ipsos MORI, asking an online sample of 1000 women aged 16-50 per country in the UK, South Africa and India about their experiences and awareness of sexual and reproductive healthcare before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The surveys reflected a global trend of lack of information and awareness of service availability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Perception of abortion services: In the UK: the percentage of women thinking that abortion services were available from a clinic dropped from 81%[xii] before the pandemic to just 21%[xiii] during the COVID -19 pandemic. Perceived availability for abortions from a private clinic decreased in South Africa, from 76%[xiv] to 43%[xv] and in India, from 61%[xvi] to 44%[xvii].
  • Need: In India: 13%[xviii] of respondents reported a need for abortion services during the pandemic. With over 1 in 3 women (35%)[xix] reported a need for contraceptive advice or products and 1 in 10 women (9%)[xx] reported a need for domestic abuse services.
  • Barriers to access: Almost a third of women in India (31%)[xxi] and a quarter of women in South Africa (26%)[xxii] who were seeking contraceptive service (advice or products) were unable to leave home to attend the service due to fear of COVID-19 infection. Almost a third of respondents in India (30%) seeking an abortion[xxiii] report that the clinic in their area was closed and 9%[xxiv] report a wait-time of more than 5 weeks.

Innovation to protect access 

Despite the challenges facing both providers and women directly, and thanks to the perseverance of our providers and the flexibility of governments and our partners, the story has also been one of resilience and adaptation.

Partnering with governments

Across many of its country programmes, MSI has advocated successfully with partners to ensure that contraception, safe abortion and post-abortion care are defined as ‘essential services’.

In Zimbabwe, MSI integrated family planning into the local immunisation programme, ensuring rural women could still access services. In Nepal, in partnership with government, NGOs and multi-lateral organisations, MSI helped influence the swift approval of Interim Guidelines, granting clients and health workers temporary exemptions from COVID-19 travel restrictions and allowing medical abortion services to be provided in clients’ homes.

Getting services to the hands of women 

Lockdowns have meant many women are unable to access clinics, so MSI has pivoted its services to reach women where they are. 

In Uganda, the team has partnered with UNFPA to deliver sexual and reproductive healthcare products using a ride-hailing app similar to Uber.  Women can now order contraception from MSI and have it delivered to their door by motorcycles known as boda bodas.

Establishing telemedicine to deliver home-based care

MSI has worked closely with governments to remove unnecessary policy barriers and pilot innovative ways to provide services. In the UK, MSI launched a telemedicine service in April, which has enabled more than 7,000[xxv] women to have a phone consultation and take both sets of abortion pills in the privacy of their own home, with 98%[xxvi] of clients surveyed rating their experience as good or very good.

Jonathan Lord, Medical Director for Marie Stopes UK said:

"Thanks to the introduction of telemedicine, waiting times and gestations have significantly reduced, and the number of safeguarding cases identified has risen by 20%[xxvii], meaning increased protection for vulnerable women.

“Had this service not been available, the consequences could have been catastrophic, with huge numbers of women and healthcare workers unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19. Some women would also have been forced to resort to illicit sources for abortion care without the safeguarding and aftercare provided by a regulated setting or been forced to continue pregnancies against their will.”  

MSI has shared learnings from its UK programme to launch similar models for remote provision in low resource settings, including South Africa, Nepal and India.

Ensuring access to accurate information 

A key priority for MSI has been ensuring that women are aware of the safe services available and their right to access them. Its network of contact centres across 28 countries have played a key role, with agents providing free sexual health advice and service referrals over the phone, WhatsApp and social media. Under lockdown, its programmes adapted quickly to set up home-based call centres, receiving over one million[xxviii] calls and messages since the start of the year.

Between March and April 2020, its contact centres saw a 50%[xxix] increase in clients interacting via social media messages, showing that having discreet ways to access information on SRHR is particularly important when young women might be stuck at home with parents or abusive partners.

Build back better

In many of the 37 countries where MSI provides services, health systems are struggling to provide safe abortion and contraception under the strain of COVID-19, but MSI’s experience shows that there are cost effective and simple solutions that can save lives and maintain access: from implementing telemedicine to collaborating with service providers to ensure the regulatory landscape supports safe access.

Simon Cooke, MSI’s Chief Executive, said:

“In many countries the worst effects of COVID-19 are yet to come and in others a second wave is on the horizon, but there is an opportunity to use this as a catalytic moment to transform services and make women’s lives better tomorrow than they are today.

“It costs around 3 cents per day to protect a young woman from an unintended pregnancy for one year, giving her the chance to finish her education or even saving her life. We call on donors, partners and the global community to learn from the impact we have seen so far and maintain their support and funding for sexual and reproductive health to ensure that women have timely access to essential services, such as contraception and safe abortion both during the pandemic and beyond.”

 

- Ends -

Notes to Editors

For interviews and further information please contact:

Email: press@mariestopes.org 
Tel:  (+44) 07769 166 516

 ------

About MSI

MSI is a global organisation providing contraception and safe abortion services to women and girls in 37 countries. We believe that every woman and girl must determine her own future, and the high-quality services we provide give a woman the power to pursue her dreams for herself and her family.

------

[i] MSI Internal Data calculated using Impact 2, a socio-demographic mathematical model that cam estimate the impact of our work, and the wider social and economic benefits of contraception and safe abortion.

[ii] Ibid      

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] At the beginning of the pandemic MSI modelled three different scenarios, predicting that between 4 – 9.5 million fewer women and men would be served in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus-related disruptions. It is currently delivering to the least severe.

[vi] MSI Internal Data calculated using Impact 2, a socio-demographic mathematical model that cam estimate the impact of our work, and the wider social and economic benefits of contraception and safe abortion.

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Ibid                                    

[ix]  Ibid

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

[xii] The research was conducted online using Ipsos MORI Access Panels and approved partners. Online interviews were carried out amongst females aged 16-50 in the UK, India and South Africa 1000 interviews were conducted in each market, with quotas set on age and region. Fieldwork was conducted between the following dates: UK - 29th July and 1st August 2020., India - 31st July and 10th August 2020. South Africa - 1st August and 11th August 2020. The data are weighted to known offline population profiles as follows:  UK - age, region, working status and education. India - age, region and working status. South Africa - age, region and education. In India, our survey referred to abortion as abortion/MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy).

[xiii] Ibid    

[xiv] Ibid

[xv] Ibid

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Ibid

[xviii] Ibid

[xix] Ibid

[xx] Ibid

[xxi] Ibid

[xxii] Ibid

[xxiii] Ibid. 95 of the 1000 women surveyed in India were seeking an abortion during the covid-19 pandemic.

[xxiv] Ibid

[xxv] MSI internal appointment data from its Client Record System for clients who have used the Telemedicine Service since its introduction in April 2020.

[xxvi] MSI Internal data from its 'Welfare check' telephone questionnaire conducted by Marie Stopes UK’s Right Care team. Fieldwork was conducted between 21st April 2020 and 17th August 2020. Total sample size was 1,200 respondents who had used the Telemedicine service, with 1,177 respondents rating the service good or very good.

[xxvii] MSI internal data for calls to its UK call centre, One Call, with a safeguarding concern raised, received between 23rd Jan 2020 and 22nd Mar 2020 (total: 1,523 calls), compared with calls received between 23rd Mar 2020 and 23rd May 2020 (total: 1,830 calls).

[xxviii] MSI internal data for calls and messages to its contact centres received between January 2020 and June 2020 (total: 1,011,719 interactions).

[xxix] MSI internal data for social media messages to its contact centres received in April 2020 (total: 68,931 messages), compared with messages received in March 2020 (total: 45,941 messages).

09.07.2020: MSUK's response to "investigation" by radical anti-choice group, Christian Concern, into the abortion care telemedicine service

London, 9th July 2020: If you are covering radical anti-choice group, Christian Concern's, "investigation" into the MSUK abortion care telemedicine service, you may find the following statement useful.

Richard Bentley, Managing Director for MSUK and Dr Jonathan Lord, Medical Director for MSUK, said:

In March, the UK government introduced temporary guidance to allow women to take medical abortion pills at home, up to 10 weeks gestation. The move, in line with pre-existing international and national guidance, was welcomed by health providers as a way for women to receive care during COVID-19, without needing to travel or putting additional strain on the health system. 

It is therefore disappointing that a radical anti-choice group, Christian Concern, which campaigns specifically to restrict lawful access to lifesaving abortion care, is now trying to derail this policy with a so called ‘investigation’ that saw three women abusing the system to obtain abortion pills. 

Early medical abortion at home is safe, effective and convenient. Thanks to its introduction, 25,000 women across the UK have been able to access timely, high-quality care. During these exceptional times, as a result of telemedicine provision, days spent waiting for an abortion have crucially been reduced meaning women can access abortion care earlier in their pregnancies.  Had telemedicine not been available, there is a real danger that some women may have turned to illicit sources for abortion pills and would not have had the safeguarding and aftercare provided by a regulated service.  

Christian Concern stated that there were no checks done on whether the women who called MSUK were registered with the GP practice they provided, and that there were no checks done to establish the women’s  identities or their gestation. 

However, the process of providing a registered GP is not a legal requirement.  Direct access to healthcare services is considered best practice and GPs are often not directly involved in services. Abortion care is also considered urgent care, meaning that abortion providers are legally obliged to provide care, whether a woman is registered at a GP service or not, or even if she is not a UK resident.  

As an abortion care provider, MSUK also does not perform identity checks – the same as all NHS healthcare settings in the UK. We trust women to give us honest information and, in our experience, the only people who knowingly abuse that system are, as in this case, anti-choice organisations. 

We are also still seeing many clients in our clinics as needed or requested. Of the total number of medical abortions MSUK has provided since 6 April 2020, approximately 53% have been via telemedicine and 47% through a face-to-face consultation.  

Reassuringly, of those women who have come into a clinic to be scanned, only 1% had a scanned date which would have resulted in a different treatment being offered to comply with the current law, although there would have been no safety concerns if they had used the medical abortion service. 

As other organisations have identified, since introducing telemedicine services, MSUK has seen more than a 20% increase in the number of safeguarding disclosures, including of domestic abuse and sexual violence, allowing us to intervene and support these vulnerable women.   

All women are counselled on what to expect during their abortion, given details of how to take the medicine and advised to call back if they are worried about anything with access to specialist 24-hour advice.  

Christian Concern also stated that the investigations show that telemedicine can be manipulated by a third party, to obtain abortion pills for an underage sexual abuse survivor. This suggestion is also unfounded as our teams deal directly with individuals.  

In fact, what we have seen, is that underage survivors can find it less frightening to talk about distressing and intimate details over the phone. Our teams were recently able to safeguard a 12-year-old girl, who disclosed to us that she was being raped by two relatives. This is the reality of safeguarding in abortion care. 

Further, we also know that controlling pregnancy and access to contraception is a method of control widely used by perpetrators of domestic abuse and, in our experience, we are more likely to encounter women who are planning to end their pregnancy without their abusive partner or family’s knowledge, than we are to encounter a woman who has been coerced into attending a clinic when she wishes to keep her pregnancy.

At a time when COVID-19 has caused unprecedented pressure on healthcare services, many, including the NHS and GPs, are using telemedicine as their main patient interaction. In England, Matt Hancock said ‘we have moved to a principle of digital first in primary care and with outpatients, unless there are clinical or practical reasons, all consultations should be done by telemedicine.’  In doing so, providers are trusting that their patients are offering up accurate medical information when accessing legal healthcare, which the women who called on behalf of Christian Concern did not do 

At MSUK, we are proud to be the first national abortion provider to have introduced telemedicine and have been able to support women in a proactive, responsible, safe and caring way. Our evidence backed approach to providing telemedicine is entirely in keeping with other NHS providers and GPs across the country. 

All the ‘investigation’ by Christian Concern demonstrates, is that three women pretending to be distressed and in need of an abortion, were able to access safe and effective abortion care without risk to themselves or their families, in line with current UK regulations. 

- Ends -

For further information and interviews please contact:

Email: press@mariestopes.org.uk

Telephone: +44 (0)7769 166 516

 

29.06.2020: Supreme Court ruling on Louisiana case

Washington, 29th June 2020 – If you are covering today’s Supreme Court ruling against the requirement for all abortions in Louisiana to be provided by a doctor with ‘admitting privileges’ to a nearby hospital, you might find the following statement from MSI useful.

Marjorie Newman-Williams, President for MSI-US, said:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a huge victory for choice and reproductive justice in the United States. Had it been adopted, it would have set a chilling precedent.  We are thankful to the Center for Reproductive Rights and all the incredible pro-choice campaigners who raised their voices to challenge it.  

“Laws and policies that block access to safe abortion do not reduce the number of abortions, they only force people to resort to unsafe methods and hurt poor and  vulnerable people most.  Our medical teams around the world witness and deal with the terrible consequences of this every day.  We breathe a sigh of relief that the court has struck down this law and stopped the further erosion of reproductive rights in the United States.”

- Ends -

For further information and interviews please contact:

Email: press@mariestopes.org.uk

Telephone: +44 (0)7769 166 516

12.06.2020: MSI awarded $4.9 million CAD in new funding from Global Affairs Canada to maintain access to SRHR services during COVID-19

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has awarded $4.9 million CAD of rapid funding to MSI, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and RNW Media to help tackle the effects that COVID-19 has had on the sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) of women and girls in some of the world’s most marginalised communities.

Through a partnership led by MSI, the funding will ensure that the hardest hit front-line services across both MSI’s and IPPF’s country programmes stay open. There will be a particular focus on maintaining access to sexual and reproductive health services for the most vulnerable in these communities, including 15-19-year olds who are at increased risk of unplanned pregnancy and those living in poverty.

The funding will also be used to increase access to comprehensive SRHR information and remote counselling services through contact centres and other digital platforms as well as to expand access to telemedicine for home-based safe abortion care services.   

By partnering with RNW Media, MSI as global leaders in sexual and reproductive healthcare, hope to create inclusive, youth-friendly content on SRHR including information around safe abortion, sexual and gender-based violence and COVID-19.

Responding to the news, Simon Cooke, CEO of MSI, said:

“Women and girls, especially those in developing countries, have been uniquely and disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, bearing the brunt of lockdowns and restrictions that stop them accessing sexual and reproductive health services as well as facing increases in sexual and gender-based violence.

 “We are grateful to Global Affairs Canada for its continued support at this critical time and thanks to this funding, we and our partners will be able to maintain vital front-line SRHR services for women and girls in some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities.

The commitment of GAC will not only save women’s lives but also support health systems as countries recover from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.”

01.06.2020: Marie Stopes UK sees a 33% rise in domestic violence reports under COVID-19 lockdown

Overall safeguarding concerns have increased by 20%[i], warns the charity

Marie Stopes UK, a charity which provides abortion care services across the UK has seen a 33%[ii], increase in domestic violence reports, as the unprecedented lockdown restrictions force women to isolate with their abusers.

These figures form part of a 20%[iii] increase in overall safeguarding concerns during the first two months of lockdown, as calls to the Marie Stopes advice line spike.

Other increases include women clients under the age of 18 (10%)[iv] and women who are experiencing mental health problems (7%)[v].

The team at Marie Stopes UK’s contact centre, which includes dedicated safeguarding nurses for adults and children as well as ex-police support workers, are trained to spot vulnerable callers, and work with the NHS, social workers and the police amongst others, to help keep women safe while they make the choices that are right for them.

The team have been a critical part of major safeguarding cases, including identifying a human trafficking ring resulting in the rescue of a number of trafficked women.  

Amy Bucknall, Named Nurse for Safeguarding of Adults and Children for Marie Stopes UK, said:

“It is an incredibly scary time for women who need to access abortion care during COVID-19 and we’re seeing an increase in cases where women need extra safeguarding protection.

“In one case, a 19-year-old girl disclosed that if her family found out that she was pregnant outside of marriage, significant harm would come to her. But as she was isolating with her family, it was incredibly difficult for her to leave the house. We had to work closely with protective agencies to get her the support she needed in order to make her choice.  

“Our strong safeguarding processes are therefore critical in ensuring that vulnerable women can access the care they need in a timely manner, free from coercion and harm from others.”

Over the last two months, calls to the Marie Stopes UK helpline have risen by more than 3500 to almost 45,000[vi], possibly due to the large numbers of women struggling to access contraception during the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that most Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are now allowing women to select the provider with the shortest waiting times. The charity is also taking on additional caseload from NHS trusts, who have suspended their work to focus on COVID-19.

Safeguarding these women has become even more complex during the crisis, with public services stretched to the limit and normal safeguarding procedures, such as social workers accompanying clients to clinics, disrupted.

Women are also unable to lean on their usual support networks, leave their houses for extended periods of time or even access public transport if they do need to travel, exacerbating already existing vulnerabilities.

Jonathan Lord, Medical Director for Marie Stopes UK, said:

Controlling pregnancy and access to contraception is a method of control widely used by perpetrators of domestic abuse. In the long-term, we worry that women will be forced to continue pregnancies they do not want to keep, as abuse prevents them from accessing essential healthcare services during lockdown.

“This will have significant long-term consequences for already vulnerable women, making it even harder for them to avoid ongoing abuse.”

The introduction of telemedicine, which enables women seeking an early medical abortion to take both sets of abortion pills at home, means some vulnerable women, including those with a coercive partner, are now able to access care more discretely.

Marie Stopes UK have found safeguarding by telephone to be highly effective as women and girls who are too frightened to attend consultations in person can talk more openly and privately over the phone. They have identified some major safeguarding cases through confidential phone calls, including harrowing cases such as a 12-year-old being subject to rape by two relatives.

However, other women still need to attend clinics, especially if they have contacted Marie Stopes UK later in their pregnancies. Here, shockingly, they can sometimes still be subject to abuse from anti-choice groups, who despite strict social distancing measures, are still harassing women outside of Marie Stopes’ clinics.

Shanaaz Mohammed, clinical team leader at Marie Stopes UK’s Central London clinic, said:

“Unbelievably, since lockdown began, anti-choice individuals and groups have continued to gather outside our clinics, completely ignoring social distancing rules implemented by the government and essentially being a law unto themselves. We have had to call the police on two occasions due to the anti-choice group singing hymns and chanting loudly.

“This means that not only are women struggling with the impacts of COVID-19 and the complexity of accessing care during the pandemic, but they are also facing abuse and harassment when they do attend clinics. It’s horribly unfair and particularly distressing for women who may already be vulnerable.”

 

-Ends- 

 

[i] Marie Stopes International internal data for calls to their helpline, One Call, which contained a safeguarding concern. Received between January 23rd, 2020 and March 22nd, 2020 (total: 1,523 calls), compared with calls received between March 23rd, 2020 and May 22nd, 2020 (total: 1,830 calls).

[ii]  Marie Stopes International internal data for calls to their helpline, One Call, which contained a domestic violence concern. Received between January 23rd, 2020 and March 22nd, 2020 (total: 236 calls), compared with calls received between March 23rd, 2020 and May 22nd, 2020 (total: 314 calls).

[iii] Marie Stopes International internal data for calls to their helpline, One Call, which contained a safeguarding concern. Received between January 23rd, 2020 and March 22nd, 2020 (total: 1,523 calls), compared with calls received between March 23rd, 2020 and May 22nd, 2020 (total: 1,830 calls).

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid

[vii] Marie Stopes International internal data for calls to their helpline, One Call, received between January 23rd, 2020 and March 22nd, 2020 (total: 41, 260 calls), compared with calls received between March 23nd, 2020 and May 22nd, 2020 (total: 44, 861 calls).

04.02.2020: The impact of COVID-19

Marie Stopes International (MSI) warns up to 9.5 million women and girls risk losing access to its contraception and safe abortion services in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The consequences would be devastating. MSI estimates that across the 37 countries where it worksthe loss of its services due to COVID-19 could lead to an additional: 

  • 3 million unintended pregnancies. 
  • 2.7 million unsafe abortions. 
  • 11,000 pregnancy-related deaths.1 

Simon Cooke, Marie Stopes International’s Chief Executive, said: 

Women and girls will pay the price if governments do not act now to safeguard access to essential healthcare, including safe abortion and contraception.  

Abortion is an essential and time-sensitive procedure, and delays caused by social distancing, healthcare shutdowns and travel restrictions will have profound impact. But if governments are willing to work with providers there are simple, effective and proven steps that could save thousands of lives. 

Contraception and abortion are essential healthcare 

We are seeing the effects first-hand in countries like Nepal, where the government has ordered a national lockdown. Due to mobility restrictions, neither providers nor clients were able to reach Marie Stopes Nepal’s centres, forcing them to close. However, women’s need for sexual and reproductive healthcare has not stopped. Marie Stopes Nepal's contact centre has seen an increase in calls from women seeking abortion services since the start of the lockdown  

Sarita Ojha, a Counsellor at Marie Stopes Nepal’s Contact Centre, shared: 

“This woman was crying on the phone. When will your services restart? I cannot afford to have another child. Please help me! It really broke my heart not to have an affirmative answer for her.” 

Fortunately, by working in partnership with local government, Marie Stopes Nepal has been able to re-open seven clinics, with more in the pipeline, meaning women can still access care. 

Women’s health and lives at risk if services stop 

During the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, women in Sierra Leone were not only at risk due to Ebola: their access to essential and lifesaving reproductive care was also disrupted, resulting in as many, if not morepregnancy-related deaths than from Ebola itself.2  

Learning from the Ebola crisis, governments must define contraception and safe abortion services as essential, meaning life-saving care can be delivered, with the appropriate precautions and protective equipment. 

Felix Ikenna, a doctor and quality assurance director for MSI in Sierra Leone, said: 

People will always need services, irrespective of an epidemic. During Ebola, the number of women we saw went up as word spread that we were still open.  

The crisis led to a spike in the number of teenage pregnancies. People were too afraid to go to hospital or government facilities. If we had stopped providing contraception and post-abortion care, it would have been much worse. … Marie Stopes Sierra Leone was one of the only organizations that continued providing services. 

I remember one woman came to us following a miscarriage. She had a fever and probably had Ebola, but we were able to follow MSI infection prevention guidelines which stopped any cross infection. It’s the same now with COVID, if people come in with a cough it could be coronavirus or because the rains are coming. Whatever happens you need to protect yourself. 

Health care at a breaking point 

In countries, like Uganda, already hit by the funding cuts caused by the US imposition of the Global Gag Rule , the impact of COVID could be even more dire.  

Marie Stopes Uganda Country Director, Dr Carole Sekimpi said: 

The Global Gag Rule only serves to put women at even greater risk when a crisis like COVID-19 hits.    

Over the past three years, the Gag Rule has cut off access to contraception for Uganda’s most vulnerable women and adolescent girls. I have seen first-hand the consequences of this shameful policy: women’s lives, health and futures put at risk when they can't get the contraception they need. 

Women and girls in Uganda have already lost access to contraception and health care due to the Gag Rule. They will be further stretched to prevent an unintended pregnancy or get basic reproductive healthcare when COVID hits their communities.” 

Removing barriers 

In many of the 37 countries where MSI provides services, health systems are struggling to provide safe abortion and contraception under the strain of COVID-19. But there are concrete actions governments can take to ensure access and save women’s lives: from allowing women to access safe abortion and contraception services remotely via telemedicine, allowing pharmacies to provide services and removing unnecessary waiting times and the need for multiple doctor sign offs. 

Above all, anti-choice lawmakers must not exploit the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to try to deny women access to abortion and contraception. 

Now more than ever, to save lives, governments worldwide must include the reproductive healthcare women need in the list of essential services  

- Ends - 

Notes to Editors 

For interviews and further information please contact:  
Email: press@mariestopes.org   
Tel: (+1) 202 864 2522(+44) 07769 166 516 

About MSI 

MSI is a global organisation providing contraception and safe abortion services to women and girls in 37 countries. We believe that every woman and girl must determine her own future, and the high-quality services we provide give a woman the power to pursue her dreams for herself and her family. 

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