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With more patients traveling to New England for abortions, Connecticut looks to expand access

Dr. Nancy Standwood portrait
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Dr. Nancy Stanwood, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.

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 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 OB-GYNs – midwives, physician assistants and 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, the organization said it has seen a 68% 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,” Stanwood said.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which serves Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, says it has seen a 6.5% increase in out-of-state patients.

In Massachusetts, providers say they’re seeing a “steady stream.”

According to Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, roughly 2% to 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 OB-GYN 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.

State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, is writing up legislation this session to address some of those issues, proposing funding for transportation, lodging and abortion care for patients traveling to Connecticut.

With state Rep. Matt Blumenthal (right), state Reps. Jillian Gilchrest (second from right) and Aimee Berger-Girvalo hug after a bill signing ceremony that extended legal protections to out-of-state health care providers and abortion patients.
Mark Mirko
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Connecticut Public
With state Rep. Matt Blumenthal (right), state Reps. Jillian Gilchrest (second from right) and Aimee Berger-Girvalo hug after a bill signing ceremony that extended legal protections to out-of-state health care providers and abortion patients.

“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.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.
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