ROMANIA – There were problems in quiet times but now…

There were problems with reproductive health services for women during quiet and more peaceful times, but during this pandemic, things have seriously worsened. In the past week, a group of 18 women’s rights NGOs and independent activists alerted the Ministry of Heath, the Institute of Public Health and the World Health Organization Office for Romania of their opposition to the following Covid-19 related policies:

  • suspension of all on-request pregnancy terminations,
  • drastic decrease in pregnant women’s access to antenatal check-ups, screening and monitoring,
  • separation of women with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 virus post-partum from their newborns, and breastfeeding not permitted (contrary to WHO recommendations), including of hospitalised, premature babies.

Although Nelu Tătaru, Minister of Health said: “We commit to observing women’s rights, no one will oblige them to give birth against their will and each situation will be analysed on a case-by-case basis. If a woman wishes to have a pregnancy termination, she will have to sign that she knows the risks under Covid-19 [sic]. We strive to minimise risks as much as possible, by keeping women in the hospital for only one day.”

And Dr Radu Vlădăreanu, President of the Obstetricians & Gynaecologists Society of Romania, said: “No one can oblige a woman to have a baby. And it is natural for us to take care that the provisions of the State of Emergency should not be interpreted by physicians who are «more Catholic than the Pope» as imposing additional restrictions on women… I hope that medical abortion will be used more in Romania, as it is used to a large extent in Europe and is a safe method and advisable for women. Perhaps it may result in a decrease of surgical abortion on request.” He denied that abortion on request would be regarded as a non-emergency procedure and therefore forbidden under the military order covering the emergency.

The facts are these:

  • The newspaper Libertatea called several public and private abortion clinics in Bucharest to ask for an appointment, but an appointment was not possible in any of the facilities they contacted.
  • There is concern that unwanted pregnancies will be one of the effects of isolation. One doctor, who chose to remain anonymous, said: “There will be health issues, there will be many unwanted pregnancies or clandestine abortions.” The same physician stated that up to last week women were queuing for abortions at the Polizu Maternity Hospital, one of the only facilities providing abortions on demand in Bucharest.
  • At the Polizu Maternity Hospital, we were told: “No pregnancy terminations are being provided at this time, call us after Easter, we’ll let you know should anything change. [In many hospitals across the country, a religious holiday is an excuse not to provide abortions, with Easter, for up to two weeks.]

The fact is that many clinics are closed because of the COVID pandemic. Over 10% of confirmed Covid-19 cases are among medical personnel. Two of the clinics the newspaper Libertatea called are closed because of the pandemic. The Marie Stopes clinic suspended its activities for the period 30 March–22 April, possibly to be extended until 1 May.

The Royal Hospital too has “temporarily suspended such medical activities until further regulations”. Giulești Maternity hospital told us pregnancy terminations on request are not possible during the state of emergency, meaning at least until 17 May. Two of the largest private clinics, Regina Maria and Medicover, have communicated that abortions are not provided on request [even though it is legal up to 14 weeks of pregnancy] but only if a medical problem is discovered as a result of a medical consultation.

In mid-March, a woman was fined in Prahova because she did not observe quarantine. Why? She went to the hospital because she was haemorrhaging after an abortion. This was reported by Scena9, in an article on the situation of pregnant women who were about to deliver during these times.

Libertatea continued their research trying to find a clinic providing abortions on request. The search did not succeed.

They then switched their request to asking for a medical abortion, namely, being given a prescription. When the Regina Maria clinic said no abortions on demand are provided, the reporter asked if she could obtain a prescription for the necessary medication for abortion with pills. She was offered the possibility of talking to a doctor, but the clinic stressed the fact that no abortions on request are provided. Sanador clinic said there was no option for a medical abortion and, moreover, no abortions are being provided during the state of emergency.

Sfânta Maria clinic said no because they didn’t have a physician, but they offered the possibility of a gynaecological consultation, either with referral or for a fee, but said that they could not guarantee a prescription for a medical abortion, as the doctor had to make that decision. Medsana clinic said they performed no abortions. With other clinics, we were also given the possibility of a gynaecological checkup, after which the physician would make a decision whether to recommend medical abortion, with no guarantee of that decision.

On 10 April, 15 women’s rights organisations wrote urgently to the Minister of Health to ask him to restore at least the following three services essential for Romanian women’s reproductive and sexual health:

  • Access of pregnant women to antenatal consultations and treatments;
  • Facilitation of breastfeeding of newborns by nursing mothers, both those of mothers with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 diagnosis, and those of healthy mothers;
  • Women’s access to pregnancy terminations on request within the legal limit of 14 weeks, including provision of medical abortions as requiring less contact between providers and patients.

Apparently, he has changed something to do with breastfeeding on the Ministry’s website. But otherwise, at this writing, he has not replied.

SOURCES: Libertatea, by Andrada Lăutaru, 9 April 2020 ; Libertatea, by Andrada Lăutaru, Mirela Neag, Cătălin Tolontan + video, 8 April 2020 ; @Ana Maita: ; Translation into English by Daniela Draghici