As Americans face a sharp curtailment of reproductive rights since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last year, Oregon Health & Science University continues to be on the leading edge of creating access for essential health care with a new Center for Reproductive Health Equity to advance reproductive health services, education and policy research.
Last year’s devastating rollback of Roe v. Wade protections has resulted in abortion services — what should be basic health care — becoming unsafe and inaccessible to individuals in more than a dozen states, disproportionately affecting low-income people and already marginalized communities.
In the face of growing health disparities, OHSU has been a leader in reproductive health care and education, including: working to provide access to abortion services for out-of-state patients; advising on international efforts to improve reproductive health; and, most recently, offering abortion training for medical residents who live in states where abortion is banned or restricted, and, therefore, don’t have access to clinical experience with abortion care as part of their family planning training. The new center continues OHSU’s steadfast commitment to comprehensive access to reproductive health services for all.
“Reproductive health is fundamental right, yet so many Americans — especially people of color, immigrants, low-income individuals and LGBTQ+ people — do not have equal access to care,” said Maria Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of the new center. “The establishment of this center is an important and necessary step to ensure a person’s right to make decisions about their health is not in any way limited by factors like race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or socioeconomic status.”
The United States has one of the highest rates of death and illness related to pregnancy and childbirth among developed nations, and these disparities are the greatest among people of color and those living in poverty. A key driver of this public health crisis is limited access to evidence-based reproductive health services — in particular, contraception and abortion. The new OHSU center will work to identify and resolve the health-systems factors underlying these disparities, ultimately allowing clinicians and researchers to more effectively design and deliver care, educate students and trainees, and advocate for evidence-based reproductive health policy.
The center, housed within OHSU’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will focus on three key areas: research, education and clinical care.
Research priorities will include determining the role that health-systems factors play in mitigating or perpetuating reproductive health disparities, and evaluating different clinical interventions that promote reproductive health equity. The center’s education efforts will engage students, residents and faculty on the role of policy in shaping factors and conditions related to reproductive health equity. And importantly, the center will enlist clinicians to improve reproductive health care access for marginalized populations, both in Oregon and across the country.
Over the last year alone, more than 500 policies have been passed restricting access to reproductive health care. These policies affect all areas of care, including maternity and newborn care, contraceptive access, abortion services and fertility treatment.
“Recently we’ve seen such extreme measures taken to limit access to reproductive health care, and these actions have very real consequences on the health of women in this country,” Rodriguez said. “While our team at OHSU is thrilled to pursue this work, we also understand there is not a moment to waste.”
The establishment of the Center for Reproductive Healthy Equity represents another significant effort in OHSU’s commitment to provide the full continuum of sexual and reproductive health care to all who seek it, and to educate the next generation of clinicians and advance groundbreaking research. The center builds on the ongoing support of generous donors and dedicated health care and community partners, who recognize the importance of advancing the field of reproductive health.