OPEN studies impact of policy on reproductive health and equity

News — July 6, 2022

OPEN studies impact of policy on reproductive health and equity

By Ben Lewis, Director of Communications

As legislation regulating reproductive healthcare has increased in Ohio and other states over the past decade, a need emerged to observe the impacts of the laws and policies passed. The Ohio Policy Evaluation Network (OPEN) was created to fill gaps in data about reproductive health.

"There was not evidence-based research in medicine or public health suggesting that increased legislation was necessary. Reproductive health procedures, including abortion, had already been appropriately regulated through medical channels," said Alison Norris, associate professor in the College of Public Health and the College of Medicine.

Norris, who is co-principal investigator of OPEN along with Danielle Bessett from the University of Cincinnati, said the group of scientists who came together in 2018 to form OPEN are researchers who study reproductive health outcomes, care and access. They designed a set of studies to examine the impact of the laws on health and well-being of the people in the state and the region.

"We want to understand the direct impacts of the laws and policies, and also how those impacts are experienced differently across subsets of the population," Norris said. "We know from other research that laws and policies do not necessarily help people, and any harms are often inequitably distributed across groups of people."

OPEN involves faculty members, students, staff, and clinicians at Ohio State, the University of Cincinnati, Case Western Reserve University, and other institutions in Ohio and surrounding states. They also collaborate with community leaders and public health advocates.

Their first work was to take a listening tour in which researchers traveled around Ohio to meet with a range of people who work on issues related to reproductive health care access and reproductive justice.

"This listening tour connected us to people who were expertly positioned to inform our research questions," Norris said. "Our research is stronger as a result of being in frequent dialogue with practitioners of the work we study. As we have conducted our research, these are the same people who have come to use OPEN's findings for policy and programming, and who are able to communicate the findings to their own stakeholders."

Norris said the ongoing dialogue is critical to OPEN's success. The OPEN team recently concluded a second listening tour to inform next steps as they pivot to understanding what a post-Roe v. Wade scenario will look like for people in the state and region.

A recent study by OPEN team members found that if abortion is not available in Ohio, travel distances to obtain abortion will increase dramatically for the people of the state, possibly more than 10 times the current average for a one-way trip (269 miles v. 26miles now).

One of the values OPEN intentionally practices is to invest in the training of the next generation of reproductive health scholars. They have around 40 trainees at any time, including undergraduates, master's students, doctoral students, and medical students.

"A lot of students want to be doing research that will be impactful in their fields and they want to use the expertise they are gaining to have a voice for better policy and better practice," Norris said. "Some students with OPEN have had the opportunity to give testimony to the Ohio Legislature based on research they have done. We hope their experiences with OPEN will help them continue engaging in policy for the rest of their lives and think about the meaning of doing publicly engaged work."