On Wednesday, the Baker-Polito administration announced that it would award $4.1 million in grants to 11 community-based organizations to increase access to reproductive health care across Massachusetts, including abortion.
“Today’s announcement is one more step in affirming this Administration’s commitment to ensuring access to reproductive health care, including access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said in a statement about the funds, which will come from the 2023 state budget and a spending bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in November. “These funds help fulfill that commitment by expanding access to timely and safe reproductive health care that meets the needs of individuals and families.”
Organizations receiving grants include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and Health Imperatives, a nonprofit that focuses on serving low-income populations. All grant recipients will be directed to use the funds for expanding telehealth abortion, training new abortion providers and increasing outreach of services.
Advocates say the funds will be especially impactful on Cape Cod and the Islands, a region that some providers and abortion-rights advocates have called an “abortion desert,” where a person could be required to travel hundreds of miles, by ferry and car, to the nearest abortion clinic in Boston or Rhode Island. With the infusion of state dollars, advocates say women in the region will soon be able to obtain medication abortions more easily.
Approximately $700,000 of the grant money will go to Health Imperatives, which operates clinics in Hyannis, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Brockton, New Bedford, Plymouth and Wareham. Until now, most of its clinics weren’t able to directly provide abortions. The nonprofit plans to split the grant evenly between its clinics and use the money to provide medication abortion next summer at each location. The funds will also go toward buying new equipment, staff training and setting up security if needed.
Medication abortion differs from a surgical abortion andis increasingly common. A person takes two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, about 24 to 48 hours apart to complete the abortion. It can be done up to about 10 weeks of pregnancy. As of 2020, more than half of all abortions in the United States are medication abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Terre Young, president of the board of Friends of Family Planning, which fundraises to support the clinic on Martha’s Vineyard, said she was “thrilled” when she heard the news about the funding.
“It means such a difference for the individuals who come to the clinic for not only abortion care, but all reproductive health care,” she said.
In 2021, the family planning clinic on Martha’s Vineyard started offering people on the island the option to access telehealth abortion, allowing them to connect virtually with a doctor in Rhode Island who could then send the abortion pills in the mail.
By removing logistical and financial barriers that would have previously forced a person to go off-island for abortion care, Young says it represented significant progress toward more abortion access on the island. But it still presented logistical problems for some people and could be slowed down by mail delays. Young said there was recently a woman who didn’t have a physical mailing address or P.O. box, so the nurse practitioner drove from Rhode Island to deliver her pills.
When the new services are set up in July 2023, a person will be able to walk into the clinic, see a provider to get a prescription for the abortion pills and pick up the medication at a local pharmacy.
“So that waiting time for mail delivery to happen, it's now not necessary. So what it is, is more direct care,” Young said.
State Sen. Julian Cyr, who has long been advocating for more abortion access in the region, said the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a catalyst for expanding reproductive health care in all parts of Massachusetts.
“The Dobbs decision has really forced us to look at abortion access in our own backyard. And there’s a real desire within the legislature, and the Baker Administration has joined with us, to make sure that we are providing abortion access to every region in the state,” he told CAI reporter Sam Houghton.
Long sought victory for #reproductiverights on Cape&Islands! Funds bring medical abortion to Hyannis, MV, & ACK by summer, where services have been unavailable since 2008 w/ closest clinics over 90 mi away. TY @HealthImp for helping secure these services. https://t.co/Y8i8vfHm4E— Julian Cyr (@JulianCyr) December 28, 2022
Young says that the ultimate goal is still to offer surgical abortion on the island as well so that women don’t have to travel far — if they can find affordable space and there is the political will.
“It's going to take a lot of funding and a lot of educating and a lot of creative space finding on Martha's Vineyard, which is next to impossible for many, many, many reasons.” she said. “But yes, we really want every opportunity available here. … So we're just quietly planning and waiting for all the right things to happen.”