SAN FRANCISCO - Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra arrived at UCSF on a fact-finding mission Monday, meeting with OBGYN doctors and professors to discuss front-line stories of how abortion care has changed since the Supreme Court's decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade opened to door for some states to adopt abortion restrictions.
"We continue to collect the data where we can put out information that helps inform the policy decisions that Congress is making, the states are making," Becerra said.
"Patients who are pregnant are coming to San Francisco from far away because they can't get care within their states...from places like Tennessee, even Florida, we've seen patients from Georgia," said Dr. Eleanor Drey, a UCSF Professor and Medical Director of San Francisco General's Abortion Clinic.
Dr. Drey told Becerra that colleagues also are seeing doctors leave some states that have criminalized abortions.
"It's creating obstetric care deserts, where there aren't obstetricians to care for people for counties and so then patients who are pregnant have to go hours just to get prenatal care," Dr. Drey said.
Becerra also heard from UCSF researchers about confusion and disparities in abortion access for minorities and non-English speakers.
"If they're Spanish-speaking or an immigrant, they have no idea where to look, and they're stuck in this restrictive state," said Dr. Josie Urbina, a UCSF Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Professors shared findings from their research projects on cases when abortion access is denied.
Dr. Daniel Grossman is a UCSF Professor & Director of the research center called Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health.
He shared stories his team is collecting as part of a research study on doctors in states with abortion care restrictions.
"We are hearing of cases like when a pregnant patient in second trimester breaks her bag of water, and there's a high chance of developing an infection and a low probability that the fetus would survive," Dr. Grossman said. "We've been receiving reports of cases where they just had to tell patients to go home and come back if they go into labor or show signs of infection."
Another professor just finished a telehealth medical abortion study that is expected to be published soon.
"This is a whole new way of delivering abortion care to patients and what we're doing is trying to understand, is this as safe? Is this as effective as in-clinic medication abortion care?" said Ushma Upadhya, a UCSF Professor of Public Health who is leading the study.
Professor Diana Foster, who just was named a 2023 MacArthur Fellow, discussed her book the Turnaway Study, which began comparing outcomes for women who received abortions with those who didn't receive abortion care.
"Giving birth is a really major physical event and a lot of people underestimate those risks," Foster said, "The people who are pregnant are making this decision because they understand their own circumstances, because they know they don't have enough money or the relationship isn't good enough, or they need to take care of the kids they already have. And on all fronts, they see that people who can't get an abortion do worse than people who were able to get an abortion."
One medical student also attended the meeting who said she chose to come to UCSF because she couldn't get abortion training at other medical schools in some other states.
Becerra spoke with the UCSF group for about one hour and said he hoped they would share the data from their studies with his office.