Women should be able to get an abortion in the U.S. if they so choose, as a majority of Americans believe.
But the right to an abortion and access to safe abortions are different issues. And it’s somewhat shocking to know that Martha’s Vineyard — often looked at as a liberal haven — has been classified as an abortion desert.
The closest abortion clinic to the Island has been in Attleboro, which poses a burden — particularly for low-income families and individuals. But thanks to an infusion of state funding and the work of a local healthcare group, that is about to change for the better.
Almost a year ago to the day, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling when it overturned Roe v. Wade, a decision with monumental impacts. The ruling effectively stripped the right to terminate a pregnancy, overturning a law that had been in place for some 50 years previously. The high court left it up to the states to decide on their own whether to allow abortions or not, which prompted state legislatures around the country to ban the practice.
Local lawmakers in Massachusetts, and then Gov. Charlie Baker, acted swiftly, protecting the right to abortions. Baker issued an executive order that allowed women access to abortions in Massachusetts when coming from a state that outlawed them; protections were also put in place to safeguard reproductive healthcare providers in Massachusetts who might be subjected to lawsuits from outside the state.
But it wasn’t just people outside Massachusetts who needed support. In the response to the overturning of Roe, Baker also allocated some $4 million to expand abortion access across Massachusetts, including on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Southeastern Massachusetts; approximately $700,000 went to Martha’s Vineyard.
The aid package would help fill in the gaps in reproductive healthcare, and would end the so-called abortion desert on the Vineyard and much of Southeastern Massachusetts.
On the Island, funding went to Health Imperatives to help them provide what are called medication abortions, the first time the procedure was accessible at a facility on the Island. Medication abortion is seen as a safe way to end a pregnancy in the early stages. According to Imperatives, it is 98 percent effective in ending a pregnancy. A surgical abortion can be more invasive, and requires an operation.
A woman hoping to end her pregnancy with medication takes two pills — mifepristone and misoprostol — about a day or two apart. The process can be done up to the 10th week of a pregnancy.
At Imperatives, patients will be able to make an appointment or walk in to receive the medication. There is consultation before the procedure: A woman will meet with a doctor or nurse, and a counselor if requested. As officials there say, you can’t just walk in and walk out with mifepristone and misoprostol.
There are also resources available to talk through the anxiety that can come with getting an abortion, even when a woman feels it’s the right decision. The medication can be taken onsite with a companion, or taken in the comfort of their home.
Health Imperatives plans to begin offering medical abortions in the “coming days,” as Julia Kehoe, CEO and president of the organization, tells us.
Within the past few years, Health Imperatives has provided some access to medication abortions through telehealth visits. That allowed women to connect with a doctor and walk through the process remotely, but there are limitations with telehealth. A pharmacy on the Island might not carry the medication, which might force a woman off-Island. Getting on a ferry, transportation on the mainland, and finding a place to stay are other barriers, and not insignificant for low-income families. There are other complications with telehealth, like needing internet service, and not having a face-to-face conversation.
Being able to provide medical abortions at the Vineyard facility is a significant and meaningful step in providing women with safe and needed resources.
The significance was not lost on Gov. Maura Healey, who was on the Vineyard last week for the first time in her tenure as governor. Healey’s first stop was Health Imperatives, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
She used the location to voice her support for abortion access. “Whatever it takes, whatever we need to do as a state to support access to reproductive healthcare — to healthcare, which I think is a human right — we are going to do,” she told reporters Thursday.
With the landmark court decision and the new restrictions on abortion, national polling has suggested that Americans’ attitudes toward abortion are shifting. For the first time, a majority now believe that abortions are “morally acceptable.” That’s likely after hearing truly horrifying stories, like a mother forced to give birth to a baby without a skull; mothers only allowed to have an abortion when they are on death’s doorstep; or a 10-year-old forced to travel across state lines to carry out an abortion after being raped — all reported by the New York Times.
With outcomes like this, Islanders should be grateful that a facility like Health Imperatives has been given proper funding to be able to provide access and to help low-income families that might be struggling with healthcare.
Too often we hear that low-income residents lack the care they need because the cost of living is so high on the Island, and accessing resources on the mainland can be difficult.
Abortion care is healthcare. It’s a human right that needs to be accessible, and we are pleased that help has arrived.