- The overall number of clinicians providing abortion and contraceptive services decreased in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., and rebounded in 2021 — but the number of physicians providing contraception hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, new research has found.
- Instead, there was a shift in the contraceptive workforce itself, with more advanced clinicians like assistant physicians and nurse practitioners providing contraceptive care in 2021. That mirrors the increasing numbers of advanced practice clinicians in primary care and other settings, researchers said.
- The study didn’t include outcomes after the Supreme Court’s decision this year to overturn Roe v. Wade’s constitutional right to an abortion, which has sharply decreased access to reproductive services. But researchers found losses in this workforce even before this year. “It will be critical to continue to track this workforce in the coming years given that access to care intrinsically relies on the workforce,” researchers wrote.
The healthcare workforce faced strain and burnout during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in practice closures, clinicians and nurses taking early retirement or workers leaving for other fields. The resulting labor shifts could have long-term ramifications on healthcare employment.
That’s also the case for physicians who provide abortion and contraceptive care. The new research highlights how that workforce has changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers with George Washington University used a national-level claims data set to examine changes in the contraception and abortion workforce from 2019 through 2021.
The study suggests the number of physicians providing contraception services is decreasing, a finding researchers called “concerning,” especially in light of decreased access for reproductive healthcare services since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Reproductive healthcare access requires that primary care physicians offer the full scope of care services, which includes family planning, the study argues.
Researchers suggested that investing in women’s health and primary care physicians, along with state-level expanded scope of practice policies, could strengthen that segment of the workforce.
“The abortion and contraceptive workforce has been consistently losing practitioners for a while, which leaves people with less access to these important services,” Julia Strasser, lead researcher and director of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health at GW’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said in a statement. “Further research is needed to better understand how the Dobbs v. Jackson decision will further impact this workforce in the future and the implications it will have on people’s reproductive health.”
Procedural abortion services did not distinctly decrease in early 2020. Instead, in-person abortions have steadily decreased over three years, from 8,315 services in January 2019 to 5,665 services in December 2021.
Meanwhile, medication abortions steadily increased, from 14,347 services in January 2019 to 16,074 services in December 2021.