Study: More patients traveled to Mass. for abortions after Supreme Court Dobbs ruling

Pins mark the home states of patients who've come to the Brookline clinic for an abortion since the Dobbs decision a year ago. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Pins mark the home states of patients who've come to the Brookline clinic for an abortion since the Dobbs decision a year ago. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Massachusetts has seen a small but significant increase in people traveling to the state for an abortion since June 2022, when the Supreme Court allowed states to limit access to — or ban — the procedure. A study based on medical records from the state’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, shows a 37.5% increase in the first four months after the Dobbs decision as compared to the same time a year earlier.

The total for July-October of 2022 is still small, 155 patients. It does not include patients who sought care beyond Planned Parenthood.

But providers across the state also report performing abortions on more patients from around New England and more distant states. These reports are supported by the most recent statewide abortion numbers which show a 16% increase in out-of-state patients last year. It’s not clear how much of that rise occurred after the Supreme Court ruling.

The study’s senior author, Elizabeth Janiak, said the influx is manageable for now. But her research does not include the effects of abortion restrictions put in place since last October.

“We now have 22 states with a ban,” said Janiak, an assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We, I think, are going to see even larger increases over time. So it’s important to keep monitoring these trends to make sure that we are prepared if the numbers do continue to go up.”

The study does not break down the types of abortions women and transgender patients sought. It’s not clear, for example, if Massachusetts receives more of the complex cases that some doctors practicing under abortion restrictions are referring out-of-state. Janiak said some data she’s reviewed but not published indicates surgical abortions are more common among out-of-state patients.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, does estimate that the percentage of abortion patients from outside Massachusetts who received financial assistance more than doubled in the first four months after the Dobbs ruling. This could indicate patients seeking more money for travel expenses, medical bills or both.

Janiak said people who come to Massachusetts typically have a connection to the state. “They went college here or have a sister who lives here,” she said. That’s in contrast to states seeing much more demand for abortion care because they are the closest option.

Abortion opponents continue their fight against funding and policies they say make Massachusetts a refuge for procedures they believe should be stopped.


Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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