State and Local Health Department Activities Related to Abortion: A Web Site Content Analysis

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Abstract

Context:

Recent legislation in states across the United States has required governmental health agencies to take on new and different roles in relation to abortion. While there has been media attention to health department roles in regulating abortion providers, there has been no systematic investigation of the range of activities in which state and local health departments are engaged.

Objective:

To systematically investigate health department activities related to abortion.

Methods:

We searched state health department Web sites of the 50 states and District of Columbia using key words such as “abortion” and “pregnancy termination”. Two trained coders categorized 6093 documents using the 10 Essential Public Health Services (EPHS) framework. We then applied these methods to 671 local health department documents.

Setting:

State and local health department Web sites.

Participants:

N/A.

Results:

On average, states engaged in 5.1 of 10 Essential Services related to abortion. Most (76%-98%) state health departments engaged in activities to Monitor Health Status (EPHS1), Enforce Laws (EPHS6), and Evaluate Effectiveness, Accessibility, and Quality (EPHS9). Many (47%-69%) engaged in activities to Inform and Educate (EPHS3), Develop Policies (EPHS5), and Link to Services (EPHS7). A minority (4%-29%) engaged in activities to Diagnose and Investigate Health Problems (EPHS2), Mobilize Community Partnerships (EPHS4), and Assure Competent Workforce (EPHS8). No state engaged in Innovative Research (EPHS10). Few local health departments engaged in abortion-related activities.

Conclusions:

While most state health departments engage in abortion-related activities, they appear to reflect what the law requires rather than the range of core public health activities. Additional research is needed to assess whether these services meet quality standards for public health services and determine how best to support governmental health agencies in their growing tasks. These findings raise important questions about the role of public health agencies and professionals in defining how health departments should be engaging with abortion.

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