Legislation seeks to keep abortions safe and accessible for women in Connecticut
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England has asked Connecticut lawmakers to broaden who can perform abortions. Last month, Planned Parenthood had to cancel a third of its abortion clinics in Connecticut because of the lack of physicians who could perform the procedure.
WSHUs Ebong Udoma spoke with Amanda Skinner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, to find out more. She said Connecticut’s law that codified the 1973 U.S Supreme Court abortion decision in Roe v. Wade needs to be updated.
WSHU: Roe versus Wade has been codified in Connecticut. So why is there a need for this bill?
AK: Well, we are fortunate in Connecticut that Roe vs. Wade was codified into state law more than 30 years ago. But we also know that a lot has changed in the last 30 years. And the bill that we have in Connecticut — the law that we have in Connecticut — has some elements of it that are out of date with best current clinical practice and create unnecessary barriers to accessing necessary health care. And one of those out of date and unnecessary barriers is the requirement that abortions can only be performed by physicians in the state of Connecticut.
And having abortion be legal, is merely the floor. What we want to have be the case for all health care and abortion is health care is meaningfully accessible, so that people who need and deserve care are able to access that care. So while we, again, are lucky to have the tenets of Roe vs. Wade codified into our state law, what we should have is a state where people have not only the right, but the meaningful ability to access the care that they deserve.
WSHU: Part of that would be having nurses, midwives and physician's assistants also be able to perform procedures — that's what you're asking for. Though the medical society is concerned that allowing mid-level providers to perform surgical procedures could result in unintended consequences. What do you say to that?
AK: Yeah, well, first, to be very specific, I want to clarify that what we are advocating for is for advanced practice clinicians — that includes nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants — to be able to perform procedural abortions, first trimester aspiration abortions.
Nurse Practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants are health care professionals. They are licensed by the state. They are certified by national organizations; it is within their scope of practices currently to be able to perform procedures. They currently do perform a variety of procedures. Like other health care professionals, they are held to standards of clinical practice, to standards of medical ethics. And they're held to those standards through the same mechanisms other health care professionals are. So I think all health care providers hold the safety of our patients and the quality of care as paramount. That includes us at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.
But we also have extensive evidence that shows that advanced practice clinicians performing first trimester aspiration abortion is safe. There was a study done in California a number of years ago. In that study, they reviewed over 11,000 procedures to compare the safety and quality of care provided by physicians to the safety and quality of care provided by advanced practice clinicians. And those outcomes were clinically indistinguishable in the safety of care that patients received.
WSHU: So what is the average wait time for an abortion appointment at Planned Parenthood? And what are the risks if a patient can see the doctor or provider in time if they have to wait days or even weeks?
AK: Currently, the wait time for a procedural abortion at Planned Parenthood Southern New England is over two weeks in nearly all cases, and so much of what is causing or contributing to that barrier at this time is a lack of physicians available to provide procedural abortions.
But the other thing that we are thinking about is really that, again, advanced practice clinicians are on the front lines of health care — they are the primary providers for so many of our patients providing sexual and reproductive health care. They are the clinicians that our patients see and have a trusted relationship with. And what we are endeavoring to correct for is a medically unnecessary barrier/distinction that prevents those advanced practice clinicians, those trusted providers, from being able to provide this service to patients who know them, who trusted them and who want to see the person that they know.
Now, I should say that at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England we have 14 health centers across the state. We have four health centers where we perform procedural abortions. And we are the primary provider of first trimester abortion care in the state of Connecticut. And so for us, it's critically important that we are able to care for our patients in a manner that is timely.
So that's, I think, another part that sometimes gets lost is that timely care is safe care. Accessible care is safe care. And asking patients who are seeking a first trimester abortion to wait two weeks for care is not timely care. And so one way we can address that is by expanding the pool of clinicians to include advanced practice clinicians to be able to provide those procedures for their patients.
WSHU: Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider a Mississippi law that restricts women's access to abortions. If they rule in favor of that law, if they uphold that law, how would that decision threaten Roe v. Wade in Connecticut, and what do you think the effect would be on Planned Parenthood or its patients?
AK: We are anticipating a decision from the Supreme Court in the Jackson Women's Health case, likely in June, and we are facing the most significant threat to access to abortion in 50 years since Roe v. Wade was first decided. While, of course, we don't know what the decision will be, we are anticipating that this decision could either entirely overturn Roe v. Wade, or severely erode the federal protections of Roe versus Wade. Now what that means is that it will become a state-by-state decision to determine whether individuals who are pregnant have the rights to make decisions for their bodies, for their lives, for their health and for their families…
WSHU: But in Connecticut, the state codified Roe v. Wade. Which other way would it have an effect in Connecticut?
AK: Correct. So the rights to have an abortion would not be impacted in Connecticut by that decision. Unless, of course, you know, that part of the Connecticut law was changed at some point, again, this being a state-by-state law.
What we believe at Planned Parenthood is that Connecticut can play a critical role in expanding access to reproductive health care for patients in our state as well as for those who are forced to travel from their home state to get care. So, if we are able to remove medically unnecessary barriers preventing qualified clinicians from providing procedural abortion in our state, what we will be able to do is expand access to care, not only here in Connecticut, but again for people who may be living in any one of the 26 states across the country where we expect to see a significant reduction in their ability to access care.
We feel an obligation to ensure that we are making health care as accessible to the people who need it as possible, and certainly not upholding any unnecessary barriers to care.