Expanding Access to Reproductive Health Care

In the United States, a woman’s income and her zip code are still the deciding factors on whether or not she can access many quality health services, including abortion care.

Thirty-five percent of U.S. women live in a county without an abortion provider. In some states, there is just one clinic that serves the entire population. The problem is compounded by the lack of providers: Fewer and fewer doctors are providing abortion care and training opportunities for new providers is limited.

The Abortion Access Project, a Packard Foundation grantee, is working to change these trends. They aim to increase access to abortion in places like West Virginia, where the lack of providers means that some women have to drive up to seven hours to reach needed services.

In 2009, the organization offered a training in West Virginia for local doctors who could begin to fill in a gap in abortion services. The state’s one clinic that offered abortion care had been staffed by two out-of-state doctors, but one of those doctor’s had recently retired. It was a struggle to offer medical abortion services even one day a month.

One attendee at the group’s West Virginia training was Dr. Howard (a pseudonym), a semi-retired doctor who had begun to wind down her own pediatric health practice. After the training, the petite, silver-haired woman began volunteering a few times a month in the state’s clinic.

Dr. Howard stayed in touch with the Abortion Access Project, and eventually spent a week with one of the organization’s partners in Colorado to expand her medical training to provide abortion care. Today, she has come out of retirement and is working one-to-two days a week at the West Virginia clinic.

Dr. Howard serves as an example of practicing clinicians who have the ability, time, and energy to meet women’s health needs—if they can gain the necessary skills. The Abortion Access Project’s training and support, coupled with Dr. Howard’s real-world experience, motivated her to become a provider and greatly expanded the availability of abortion services in the state.