Yale Daily News

Abortion clinics across Connecticut, New Haven and Yale will continue to offer the abortion procedure as well as the abortion pill, despite the United States Supreme Court’s reversal of the federal constitutional right to an abortion in the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case this past June. 

The Court’s overruling of nearly half a century of precedence delegated the decision of whether to prohibit abortions to individual states. As primarily Republican-controlled states move to ban or severely restrict abortions, some states — such as California, Illinois and Kansas  — are preparing for an expected influx in out-of-state patients, as people travel from across the country to seek an abortion in states where legal abortion remains accessible. Costs vary based on the provider and the patient’s insurance. 

“While Connecticut isn’t expected to be a surge state — our neighbors like New York and Rhode Island have also protected the right to abortion — we know this will create a ripple effect across the country,” Gretchen Raffa, vice president of Public Policy, Advocacy, and Organizing for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, or PPSNE, wrote in an email to the News at the end of June. “Already health centers in neighboring states are struggling to care for their own residents and accept an influx of patients traveling for abortion care. Planned Parenthood health centers in Connecticut are committed to serving anyone seeking safe, legal abortion within our borders.”

In a press release from June 24 — the date of the Dobbs decision — New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker affirmed the city’s commitment to “ensuring safe, quality access of reproductive care to any New Haven resident that needs it.” Elicker cited five methods through which residents can continue to access reproductive medical care, including health clinics like PPSNE as well as individuals’ own physicians or obstetricians. 

Also on June 24, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont issued a statement similarly supporting abortion rights. 

“Today’s Supreme Court decision drastically oversteps the constitutional right for Americans to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions without government interference,” Lamont wrote. “Decisions on reproductive healthcare should only be made between a patient and their doctor without the interference of politicians. This ruling will not only result in a patchwork of unequal laws among the states, but more importantly it will result in dangerous and life-threatening situations similar to what this country witnessed countless times in the era prior to the landmark Roe case in which women died or were left severely injured because they could not access the medical care that they should have every right to access on their own.”

Presently, abortion in Connecticut is generally legal until the fetus is viable, which is usually considered to be 23 or 24 weeks into a 40-week pregnancy. Abortions after the viability point are also permissible if needed to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health — including mental health.

Yale New Haven Health

Among the providers Elicker listed is Yale New Haven Health. According to the website of Yale Family Planning — which is a subset of Yale Medicine — the organization offers a full suite of reproductive care services. This includes contraceptive counseling, options for miscarriage management as well as various options for abortions. 

Yale Medicine offers medical abortion care within the first trimester as well as a surgical option over a longer window. 

The Yale Health website further outlines options available specifically to Yale students who think they may be pregnant. The obstetrician and gynecologist department and the Student Health center both offer pregnancy tests free of charge. 

For students who end up with a positive test and choose to terminate their pregnancy, the website states that Yale Health can arrange the referral for an abortion — which is fully covered for all Yale students, with no copay required, as part of the Yale Health Basic coverage.

For students who choose to continue a pregnancy, Yale Health offers prenatal and obstetrics care to YNHH members and to students with the Hospitalization / Specialty Care coverage plan. For students with only the basic plan and other nonmembers, the website directs that the patient seek details from their separate insurance company regarding care options. 

Connecticut as a safe haven and local organizational needs

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights advocacy group, 26 — more than half — of states across the country are set to severely restrict or completely outlaw abortions over the coming weeks and months. 

As of early September, nine U.S. states have banned all or nearly all abortions, most of which offer no exceptions whatsoever for rape or incest, per the New York Times’ ban tracking tool. At least twelve more states are almost certainly set to follow suit, affecting a total of 26.6 million women of reproductive age as well as transgender men and non-binary individuals. 

Difficulties securing quality reproductive care are often compounded for transgender and nonbinary people, as many report discrimination and barriers to access altogehter, according to a May article in the Washington Post

Trans advocates cited in the Post article noted one example of this disproportionate impact as misinformation about the risk of pregnancy while on hormone therapy. Some trans patients are told that they will be infertile after taking testosterone for a certain time period. This, however, is not a reliable method of stopping ovulation and can place trans-masculine individuals at greater risk for unwanted pregnancies. 

“I wish people knew how hard it is, and how scary it is, to access medical care when you’re trans,” Quinn Jackson, a trans man from Kansas who was an abortion provider for two years and is now a family medicine physician, told The Post. “And how really terrifying it can be and stressful it can be to worry about how you’re going to be treated and how you’re going to be perceived.”

In response to statewide abortion bans, activists, volunteers and various other state legislatures are working to strengthen interstate pathways to enable individuals to seek potentially life-saving medical care out of state if necessary. One approach to this has been passing laws to create abortion “sanctuary states” that would make it legally permissible for a pregnant person to seek an abortion by traveling across state boundaries.

Among these states is Connecticut, which passed its own sanctuary law in April

In April, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal told the News that the push to pass such legislation in Connecticut was motivated, in part, by statutes in states like Texas, Idaho and Missouri that would have allowed residents to sue out-of-state abortion providers — like those in Connecticut — for offering medical care to citizens of those states.

“This bill will prevent our public agencies from being commandeered by other states,” Blumenthal told the News at the time. “They will protect medical privacy by preventing the disclosure of medical records related to reproductive health care and also prevent the enforcement of certain subpoenas. And these provisions contain a restitution provision that will allow someone who is sued out of state by one of these bounty-style laws to seek restitution attorney fees and costs through our courts.” 

Though Connecticut is not necessarily expecting a surge — since neighboring states in the Northeast have also or are moving toward enshrining abortion rights into law — the ramifications of the Dobbs decision are set to lead to longer queues, staffing shortages and other challenges across clinics nationwide.

Raffa, from Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, spoke favorably of the April legislative package.

She added, though, that there remains more work to be done within New Haven and within Connecticut.

“This year, the Connecticut General Assembly passed The Reproductive Freedom Defense Act and Governor Lamont signed the bill into law,” Raffa wrote in an email to the News. “This legislation updated our state’s abortion statute to ensure qualified, trained advanced practice clinicians – like nurse-midwives, APRNs, and physician assistants – could perform procedural, in-clinic abortion. The law also put in place some protections for our providers here in Connecticut and anyone traveling here for abortion care in our state, protecting any patient who receives legal health care in our state is our priority. But there’s more we need to be doing for our own residents to get the care they need.”

Specifically, Raffa described the need to ensure that every person has health insurance and to lower the overall cost of healthcare in Connecticut — noting, in particular, expansion of the HUSKY Medicaid program to all income-eligible residents  regardless of immigration status. 

Raffa also noted the critical importance of considering the role of race in reproductive care and the disproportionate access to maternal support for women of color. 

“We need to continue tackling racial health disparities, especially the Black maternal health crisis, with solutions like making doula care more accessible and investing in sexual and reproductive health care in our communities,” she wrote.

This is especially notable in a city like New Haven, which has a population of 53.4 percent women, according to the 2021 U.S. Census. Racially, the city is composed of 33.6 percent Black residents and 30.8 Latinx ones, also per census data. Following a long history of reduced access to a contraceptives, current data on abortions report higher rates of abortions for Black and Latina women than for white women, according to the CDC. These data do not distinguish socioeconomic background, nor do they specify the impact that systemic inequity has on people with uteruses who are not women, such as transgender men or nonbinary people. 

In addition to YNHH and PPSNE, Elicker’s statement included Cornell Scott Hill Health Center and Fair Haven Community Health Center, in addition to an individual’s own primary care physician and OBGYN.

Local history

Connecticut was not always a pro-abortion state and, in 1821, was in fact the first state in the nation to criminalize abortion. 

In the 1965 landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled Connecticut’s ban on contraception use unconstitutional. After this ruling, advocates across the state amplified petitions and lobbying efforts to block enforcement of the state abortion ban, including a New Haven women’s liberation activist group in 1971. 

Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case upholding nationwide abortion rights that was overturned last month, became law of the land eight years later. Connecticut once again was first to an abortion position, but this time in favor: In 1990, then-governor William O’Neill signed the first bill in the nation codifying the personal medical right to an abortion into state law.

From 1992 to 2014, the number of abortion clinics in Connecticut nearly halved — from 43 to 21. In 2014, per data from Business Insider, this meant that 13 percent of Conencticut counties did not have an abortion clinic, leaving five percent of statewide women aged 15-44 without a clinic available to them in their county of residence. 

The bigger picture

Pro-abortion activists nationwide stress that a key part of their work at present is making clear that underground networks — such as the Jane Collective — existed to connect people with abortion-related care both before and after the Roe decision provided for the constitutional right to an abortion, and they will continue to serve people in this new post-Roe world. 

“Our work started more than 30 years ago in HIV advocacy, prevention and harm reduction and in women’s health,” Deon Haywood, executive director of New Orleans-based Women With a Vision, said in June. “In Louisiana, we were the first to do a syringe exchange — and we did it underground, when it was illegal. We understand that we may need to operate in the same way again. We will work to create a sanctuary for our community where we can help them come up with a plan to be safe.” 

Compared to the abortion landscape prior to Roe, however, there are a few critical differences. Among these is the existence of abortion access in about half the country. Moreover, some localized abortion funds are seeking to support patient travel expenses — such as flights, child care and gas, among other potential areas for support — for those who must journey far. Per ABC News, the National Abortion Federation is expanding a nationwide hotline that was first established in 1978  “to connect abortion seekers to those funds.”

For many activists, a core message they are working to spread is that options still exist for people in need. 

“It is just really important that people understand that there is an infrastructure in place right now to help people move across the country and to help provide support,” Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at NAF, said to ABC News.

Organizations like ineedana.com work to help potentially pregnant people navigate a constantly changing legal landscape by summarizing current policies in an individual’s zip code and providing a clear list of the closest clinics that remain operational. 

Others, like plancpills.org, synthesize potential workarounds to state bans by compiling state-specific information on online pharmacies and mail forwarding. Still others, like Just the Pill and Abortion Delivered, aim to use mobile clinics and telehealth appointments to better support patients newly stripped of access.

“The collapse of Roe is going to cause significant harm, but it was never the ultimate protection,” wrote Eloisa Lopez, executive director of Pro-Choice Arizona and the Abortion Fund of Arizona, in June. “Many were left without access to abortion care even with Roe in place. For abortion allies to come together and really see this larger picture … it’s almost like [the Supreme Court ruling] needed to happen for us to really mobilize. Nobody is going to save us but us.”

Roe v. Wade — the landmark Supreme Court decision confirming the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion — was decided in 1973. This decision was upheld twenty years later in 1992’s Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which further enshrined a person’s right to choose. 

Both Roe and Casey were overturned on June 24 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Court relegated the authority to regulate abortions to individual states.

Correction, Oct. 6: This story was updated to more appropriately reflect the demographics of people affected by anti-abortion legislation.

ANIKA SETH
Anika Seth writes about admissions, financial aid and alumni as well as diversity, equity and inclusion at Yale. She also lays out the weekly print edition of the News as an editor of the production desk and is co-chair of Diversity & Inclusion. Anika previously covered STEM at Yale, particularly new facilities projects and investments. Originally from the D.C. Metro area, Anika is a sophomore in Branford College double majoring in biomedical engineering and women's, gender and sexuality studies.