Due to a recent windfall of state funding, medical abortion services will be directly available on-Island through a local provider for the first time in Vineyard history.

The Baker-Polito administration announced Wednesday afternoon $4.1 million in grants to 11 community-based organizations and health care providers to improve access to reproductive health, including abortion care, across the Commonwealth. Over $700,000 of that funding was awarded to the regional healthcare provider Health Imperatives, which runs the reproductive health clinic on-Island.

Because federal law prohibits federal funding from going toward abortion services, the influx of state funding enables Health Imperatives to offer medical abortion care on-Island for the very first time.

A medical abortion, unlike a surgical abortion, is induced by taking oral medication and can be used up until 11 weeks of pregnancy.

Health Imperatives executive director Julia Kehoe confirmed on Wednesday that the funding would be split evenly among the organization’s seven clinics, with roughly $100,000 going to the Martha’s Vineyard clinic. The bulk of that funding will go towards infrastructure upgrades like new equipment, Ms. Kehoe said, as well as increased security protocols.

The clinic recently hired a full-time nurse practitioner on the Island, after previously relying on staff from off-Island to travel several times a week.

“I’m just really happy that we’re able to maintain our infrastructure and continue providing services on-Island,” Ms. Kehoe said.

With this new funding, which goes into effect in July, patients can receive a prescription through the nurse practitioner and pick up their medication at a local pharmacy, streamlining an often emotionally taxing process by several days.

Previously, Health Imperatives had to refer medical abortions from an off-Island Telehealth provider, thanks to a grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation secured by the Friends of Family Planning, a fundraising organization for reproductive healthcare on-Island.

Terre Young, president of the board of Friends of Family Planning, praised the new grant Thursday morning.

“If you read all the emails and texts I’ve been receiving since last night, it would put a smile on your face,” Ms. Young said.

Since joining the organization in 2017, Ms. Young has worked to expand abortion accessibility to the Island, long considered an “abortion desert.” Although Ms. Young considered the previous Telehealth referral model to be a significant step forward for reproductive healthcare access, she said that came with limitations and added stress. Medication had to be delivered to a home address and could take several days to ship.

“Starting at the moment an individual enters the abortion clinic and decides to get an abortion to finally having what you need, if that gets lengthened…the emotional stress is prolonged, too,” Ms. Young said.

The new funding comes at a fraught time for reproductive healthcare nationally, seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal right to have an abortion. Ms. Kehoe noted that although the number of individuals seeking referrals for abortions has remained relatively steady after the decision, calls inquiring about general services have increased.

“I think post-Dobbs, people are so concerned they just want to know where to go if they need it,” Ms. Kehoe said.

Health Imperatives offers a sliding scale price model for services and recently received a $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation to expand accessibility to uninsured and underinsured patients. For patients who do not qualify for a medical abortion, Friends of Family Planning continues to offer financial support to cover travel and lodging expenses incurred while seeking out treatment off-Island.

Elizabeth Barnes, a Vineyard resident and president of The Women’s Centers, a network of independent abortion providers, said she hoped the recent national attention on abortion access would help bring an often-stigmatized issue to the forefront.

“I’m hopeful that we look at this as a cultural opportunity to rethink the shame and stigma around a simple medical procedure, so people can define the path of their own lives,” she said. “This is the door opening.”

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital currently does not provide abortion services, although Ms. Barnes said that her mother received a surgical abortion at the Island hospital in the late 1970’s, noting how care and access has shifted through the decades.

Ms. Young said the family planning clinic is still a long way away from providing access to surgical abortions, since the organization would need a practitioner, additional staff, and chiefly, a space to perform procedures. But the possibility remains on the horizon.

“It would take a lot of funding,” Ms. Young said. “But raising money for a really good cause can happen on Martha’s Vineyard.”