NEW BEDFORD — A nonprofit with seven locations in southeastern Massachusetts, including New Bedford, will start offering medication abortion services in July after receiving $700,000 in state funding.
“It’s very significant. Up until now, people in the region would have to go to Rhode Island or Boston to receive this service,” said Julia Kehoe, president and CEO of Health Imperatives. Currently, the organization only provides counseling on options (including abortion) and referrals to other providers.
In southeastern Massachusetts, which has been termed an abortion desert, people must travel 30 to more than 50 miles for an abortion provider. As of 2017, about 13% of Massachusetts women lived in counties without abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization.
Meanwhile, crisis pregnancy centers, which Attorney General Maura Healey and reproductive rights organizations have warned about over limited and potentially misleading practices, outnumber abortion providers within an approximate 50-mile driving distance from New Bedford.
“This is one more service that has been lacking in … sexual reproductive health services in southeastern Massachusetts,” Kehoe said. “We regularly look at gaps in service delivery, especially health disparities, and look to see what we can do to address them. So with this grant, we’re able to do that.”
Abortion by medication involves the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. The former dilates the cervix and blocks progesterone, which is needed to sustain a pregnancy. The latter is taken 24 to 48 hours later; it causes cramping and bleeding, which then expels the pregnancy tissue from the uterus.
Health Imperatives provides sexual and reproductive health care, with a focus on increasing access for low-income and vulnerable people. The organization serves thousands each year with locations in Brockton, Hyannis, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, New Bedford, Plymouth and Wareham. Kehoe said all seven clinics will offer medication abortion services starting in 2023.
In the coming months, they will train staff, address the need for increased security protocols, and obtain the necessary medical equipment.
Medication abortion has grown increasingly common in the commonwealth. According to data collected by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, medication (denoted as medical/“non-surgical”) accounted for nearly 50% of abortions in 2021, up from about 31% in 2016, and 24% in 2011.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states this type of abortion procedure is safe and effective. The pills are approved for use up to the 10th week of pregnancy. In Massachusetts, nearly 73% of abortions were at zero to eight weeks of gestation in 2021, per DPH data.
The pills can be taken in a doctor’s office or clinic. They can also be sent by mail following a telehealth visit, which can help reduce barriers to access presented by transportation costs and distance.
Health Imperatives was one of 11 organizations that received just over $4 million in funding for reproductive health services, announced Wednesday by the state.
Per the Baker-Polito administration, the funds come from the fiscal year 2023 state budget and a reserve fund, and will be used to expand access to abortion in new regions, increase the use of telehealth for abortion, train providers and improve outreach.
Other recipients are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund (which provides assistance to people who live in or are traveling to eastern Massachusetts for an abortion) and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
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