National Center for Youth Law

At the Center

Essential Health Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The National Center for Youth Law continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 related policies on children and youth, including their access to essential health care.

Sexual and reproductive health care– including HIV prevention medication (PrEP), contraception, prenatal care, abortion, and sexual assault treatment – is essential health care. It must remain available during this pandemic to protect the health and welfare of all youth, including our most vulnerable and marginalized young people, in the short and long term.

The good news: In most states, sexual and reproductive health clinics are still open for those who need in-person care, and strides are being made to make more services available at home. In an important step, a group of 21 state attorneys general have asked the federal government to waive FDA rules that unnecessarily limit access to self-managed abortion.

The bad news: Some states are using COVID-19 as an excuse to ban access to vital reproductive care.

Youth are at greatest risk in this political fight. Even before COVID-19, many youth faced unnecessary barriers to care that resulted in disproportionately poor sexual health outcomes. These pre-existing barriers to care, such as limited access to transportation, limited privacy during telemedicine visits, and mandatory parental involvement laws, will make it even harder for young people to get the care they need right now.

Marginalized youth, such as youth in foster care, face additional hurdles and risks right now. Those without stable housing or safe homes, for example, are at increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse and at the same time are likely to find it even harder to access care. Ensuring timely access to reproductive health professionals will mean we not only address urgent health needs, but also provide an important safety net and link to support for those who need other help.

Moving forward, we must ensure access to these essential health services are protected and that existing disparities and barriers to timely care for young people are eliminated.