Keeping Score: Sex Education in Massachusetts and Beyond
In FY23 PPLM launched the ASPIRE (Advancing Science and Practice through Innovations in Research and Education) Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health to promote excellence and equity in sexual and reproductive health. ASPIRE conducted an analysis of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. and assigned each of them a sex education score based on their support for or restrictions on sex education, LGBTQ+ rights, critical race theory, and social emotional learning. The data revealed that Massachusetts is lacking in sex education, placing it in the company of states which have some of the most restrictive laws on the books against abortion. The findings are being used to advocate for updated sex and relationship education guidelines for Massachusetts (see Education, Learning, and Engagement).
The data was also used to identify eight target states with moderate sex ed policies, restrictive abortion policies, and sparse Get Real presence where PPLM’s Get Real: Comprehensive Sex Education That Works sexuality education curriculum for middle and high school aged youths can be expanded in the coming months.
Researching the Impact of the Dobbs Decision
ASPIRE’s legal research team, launched in January 2023, pursued the Minor Abortion Access Research and Advocacy Project (MAARAP), which assessed the ability of teens nationally to access safe and affordable abortion care in the post-Roe world. The analysis focused on the ways parental involvement laws, travel bans, and shield laws interact to create barriers to abortion care. The findings will be used to advocate for lowering barriers to abortion care for minors aged 16 and under in Massachusetts, as well as to advocate for protective policies for minors in other high-access states.
Another study on the use of abortion services at PPLM immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade showed a 37.5% increase in the number of out-of-state abortion patients, which is about 45 additional abortions in the four months after Dobbs. The study also revealed a large increase in the use of charitable funding for abortion among non-resident patients. The findings signal Massachusetts’ growing importance as an abortion access state, as others implement abortion bans.
ASPIRE also expanded the Quality and Equity in Abortion Seeking Travel (QuEAST) study to partner with clinics in southern Illinois and explore the barriers faced by marginalized young people who are crossing state lines to access abortion care. It’s examining the health impacts of abortion restrictions and how to better serve the needs of the most vulnerable abortion travelers.
New Clinical Research Findings
The clinical research team has focused their work on designing and participating in studies that expand abortion access while maintaining safety and efficacy; widening access to contraception; mitigating contraceptive side effects; and identifying the most effective methods of pain control during abortion and IUD procedures. One of the team’s ongoing projects is a multi-site investigation into the uses of the levonorgestrel IUD. This study, a collaboration with the University of Utah, is investigating the safety and effectiveness of levonorgestrel IUD insertion for emergency contraception within five days of sex, and the safety and effectiveness of insertion at any time during the menstrual cycle.
Our team is also working with Teal Health on a study of a new device that would allow patients to collect their own samples for cervical cancer screening. The study will compare the samples collected by patients to those collected by their health care providers to determine whether patients’ self-collected samples are adequate for detection of high-risk human papillomavirus. If self-collected samples are adequate, we anticipate that these devices could expand access and reduce barriers to this important preventive care.
A Pipeline for Sexual and Reproductive Health Practitioners
The ASPIRE training team secured a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for the Advanced Practice Clinician Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Residency program. Scheduled to launch in January 2024, this first-of-its-kind program will train physician assistant and nurse practitioner graduates in medication abortion and other health care services PPLM provides. With this initiative, PPLM is playing a crucial role in training the next generation of providers in the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion.
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