Sep 26, 2023 - Health

Advocates seek to build a regional New England abortion rights haven

Illustration of a protest sign with a caduceus on it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Reproductive Equity Now, the advocacy group behind successful efforts to bolster abortion rights laws in Massachusetts, is expanding into Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Why it matters: The Boston-based organization wants to build an abortion safe haven across New England, a region where state laws and resources for reproductive health still vary.

  • Codifying abortion protections in state law can shield states from any national abortion restrictions.

What they're saying: Rebecca Hart Holder, the group's executive director, tells Axios the move will not only benefit out-of-state travelers seeking care in the region, but also Massachusetts residents who live near state borders and have doctors in neighboring states.

Catch up fast: Hart Holder and other advocates led 2020 efforts to codify abortion protections into state law in Massachusetts and more recently to strengthen a law shielding abortion providers from out-of-state prosecution.

What's happening: Reproductive Equity Now has hired four people to lead policy and advocacy efforts in New Hampshire and Connecticut, including a state director for each, Holder says.

  • The organization aims to lobby for New Hampshire to lift its 24-week abortion ban as well as to educate people in both states about abortion protections and resources.

The big picture: Nearly 20 states in the U.S. have banned abortions or no longer have abortion care facilities, while even more enacted new restrictions in the wake of the Dobbs decision.

Zoom in: New Hampshire is the only state in New England without a law codifying abortion protections, and Reproductive Equity Now wants to change that.

The other side: Jason Hennessey, president of New Hampshire Right to Life, told NHPR earlier this year that abortion opponents' biggest priority is protecting the existing ban.

State of play: The move comes as New England has seen an increase in tele-health abortion services, according to the Society of Family Planning's WeCount report in June.

  • Each New England state saw an increase in virtual clinics prescribing abortion medication between April 2022 and March 2023.
  • Massachusetts' total tripled from 70 tele-health abortions in April 2022 to 230 last March.

Plus: A JAMA study published this month found a 37.5% increase in the number of abortions at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts among out-of-state patients between January 2018 and October 2022.

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