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Even in Washington, birth control demand surged amid Roe reversal, providers say

Planned Parenthood said they saw a 60% increase in birth control appointments between June 2021 and June 2022.

SEATTLE, Wash — In three weeks, it will be one year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Since then, abortion is no longer an option, or under threat, in about half of the country.

While Washington is going in the opposite direction in keeping abortion legal and protected, the reported demand for birth control locally may surprise you.

"We actually saw a 60% increase in birth control appointments between June 2021 compared to June 2022," said Dr. Erin Berry, gynecologist and Washington state medical director of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai‘i, Alaska, Indiana, and Kentucky.

While some of that uptick can be attributed to pandemic disruptions, according to Berry, the timing cannot be denied. 

"There was a lot going on in the sexual reproductive health world in June 2022," Berry said.

Even in Washington, in a post-Roe world, providers said women are taking steps they might otherwise not have to avoid unintended pregnancies. 

"Even patients in Washington state are nervous," Berry said. 

In the 1960s, a sexual healthcare revolution occurred in the U.S. after the FDA approved the birth control pill and a historic Supreme Court case meant married women could legally access it: Griswold v. Connecticut. But even the Griswold decision came into question last summer. After Roe was overturned, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the nation’s highest court “should reconsider” the Griswold ruling, among others.

Abortion is still legal in Washington, however, Berry said a renewed focus has arisen on reproductive healthcare.

"I feel like that's almost when I heard more-- more conversations around this uncertainty for patients in Washington state, like, 'What does this really mean?' What's really going to happen?'" Berry said.

Berry said Washington has seen a recent uptick in women seeking intrauterine devices, or IUDs, which can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years. 

"We are seeing a trend in increasing use of more long-acting birth control methods," Berry said. 

Aside from Planned Parenthood clinics, Washington state also helps fund 350 clinic sites called Community Health Centers. 

They are located in medically underserved areas and provide free or low-cost healthcare to more than 1.1 million Washingtonians per year, according to their website

Unfortunately, IUDs have been historically hard to access at these clinics, said Liz Elwart, Upstream USA's director of Washington state policy.

"On average, only 52% of Community Health Centers are able to dispense IUDs and implants," Elwart said. "They can't afford to stock them." 

But new funding in Governor Jay Inslee’s recently-approved state budget should change that, she said.

"This will increase the options available to them, and will improve the quickness with which they're able to access it," Elwart said. “They want to get it as soon as they can, while they still can.” 

Last month, FDA advisors voted in support of making a birth control pill available over the counter.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told NBC News they believe this could be helpful for the most marginalized Americans.

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