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Health clinic closures put women’s lives at risk

What happens when clinics providing healthcare services to women close? Among other things, American women will needlessly die. That’s the horrifying conclusion from a recent study published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology. Designed to gauge the impact of the closures of 100 women’s health clinics nationwide between 2010 and 2013, Dr. Amar Srivastava of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the research team discovered that fewer women were screened for cervical cancer, that more women were diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease, and disease mortality rates rose.

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Using data for 208,000 patients, the researchers compared the women from 2008 and 2009 with outcomes from 2014 and 2015. The study divided the patients into two cohorts: those in the 37 states in which the number of clinics providing abortion per capita decreased versus those in the 13 states in which the number of such clinics increased or stayed the same. As the ASCO Post of the American Society of Clinical Oncology summarized the results:

  • States that experienced clinic closures also saw a 2% drop in cervical cancer screenings, relative to states without clinic closures, with the greatest declines in screening for patients without insurance, Hispanic women, women aged 21–34 years old, and unmarried women.
  • There was a significant increase in the risk of dying from cervical cancer in states with a decrease in women’s health clinics, especially among residents living in metropolitan areas.
  • Researchers also found an increase in early-stage cervical cancer diagnoses among women aged 18 to 34 years old in states in which no clinics had closed, but a decrease in early-stage diagnoses for this same age group in states in which clinics had closed.

If there is any silver lining in the aftermath of the analysis, it can be found in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) and its reduction of the uninsured rate from nearly 16% to 8.5% in 2018, according to the U.S. Census. (That figure represents a 0.6-point increase from 2017, a jump wholly due to President Trump’s sabotage of the ACA.) But thanks to the Trump administration and its Republican allies in the states, all of the trends regarding women’s health care are being pushed in the wrong direction. Even as the birth rate and the abortion rate continue to decline, the health and lives of more women will be put at risk.

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