After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many New England states looked to protect and expand abortion access.
Connecticut took an early lead, opening an information hotline, enacting new legislation that provides legal protections, and increasing the number of abortion providers.
Dr. Nancy Stanwood, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, has been able to start training providers who are not OBGYNs — midwives, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses — in first trimester abortion procedures.
“They now are a part of our team of independently providing abortion procedures, and that has really helped us be there for our patients — to have those members of our team now,” she said.
And she says there’s been a need.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England — with clinics in Connecticut and Rhode Island — began seeing people traveling from Texas after lawmakers there enacted a sweeping abortion ban in 2021. Over the last year, since the Supreme Court ruling, the organization said they’ve seen a 68 percent increase in patients coming from 18 states, as far away as Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas.
“The distance traveled for people coming from out of state has now tripled,” said Stanwood.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which serves Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, says they’ve seen a 6.5 percent increase in out-of-state patients.
According to Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, roughly 2-3% of patients traveled from out of the state to Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. In the fall of 2022, that number increased to roughly 6%. Most patients reported making the trip because they had friends or family there.
Dr. Kate Pascucci, an OBGYN in West Hartford, Connecticut, said the reason providers in New England aren’t seeing an even bigger surge in out-of-state patients is because of the financial challenges many face in traveling for abortion care.
“I mean I’ve had people from out of state mostly who have family who live in Connecticut, that have come here,” she said. “Because abortion is covered by most insurances in Connecticut. If you have Texas state insurance, I don’t think it will pay for your abortion.”
Insurance problems, lack of funding for transportation and lodging, and child care issues keep many people from other parts of the country from seeking abortion care in New England.
Connecticut state Representative Matt Blumenthal (D) is writing up legislation this session to address some of those issues, by approving funding for transportation, lodging, and abortion care for patients traveling to Connecticut.
“That includes funding to accommodate the additional patients we’ve already been seeing come from out of state and we’ll also be looking to more broadly ensure that insurance covers the appropriate care,” he said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, only eight states, including Maine and Massachusetts, require private insurance plans to cover abortions.
Blumenthal also wants to expand the state’s new legal protections for people seeking and providing abortions in Connecticut. A bill he championed last year that is now law offers protection to providers and patients at HIPAA-covered entities.
“But crisis pregnancy centers are not covered entities, so they’re not subject to those privacy protections,” he said. “Theoretically, they could share information with an out-of-state prosecutor or an out-of-state entity seeking to sue providers or patients.”
In Vermont, lawmakers are considering a bill similar to Connecticut’s that would protect health care providers from criminal charges for performing abortions on patients who travel from states where the procedure has been banned.
So far, Attorney General offices in all of the New England states told Connecticut Public that they are not aware of any cases filed against abortion providers or patients. Neither is Planned Parenthood.
Increasing access to birth control
Demand for birth control is another area within reproductive health care that’s seen growth since the Dobbs decision, for both women and men.
“One of the things we’re seeing more that we’ve not seen in the past is childless men who want to have a vasectomy,” said Dr. Stanton Honig, division chief of sexual and reproductive medicine at Yale Urology. “We’re seeing much more of that than we have in the past.”
Honig said three times as many men have come to his clinic seeking vasectomies since the Dobbs decision. Though the numbers are starting to drop across Connecticut, Honig said demand for that procedure is still high in states where abortion is banned.
And in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont proposed expanding access to contraception as well, with legislation allowing pharmacists to prescribe contraceptive pills. Lamont made the proposal on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
This story was originally published Feb. 6, 2023, by Connecticut Public.