By Tony Kukulich
A Columbia-based nonprofit organization is working with the Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, Inc. (BJHCHS) to ensure birth control access to all women in southeastern South Carolina.
New Morning launched its statewide contraceptive access initiative in 2017, said Bonnie Kapp, New Morning president and CEO. BJHCHS, a federally qualified health center located in Ridgeland, joined the program in 2019 and has received grants totaling more than $260,000 as a result of that partnership.
“New Morning’s grants and provider training enabled our health center to offer all FDA-approved birth control methods to all of our female patients regardless of insurance status,” BJHCHS CEO Roland Gardner said. “These services are critical to women and families in our community, including many low-income and uninsured women.”
Beaufort Jasper Comprehensive Health Services was incorporated in 1970 to deliver a full range of health services to the underserved residents of Beaufort and Jasper counties. It expanded to include Hampton County in 1999.
“We work with 130 health centers including hospitals – inpatient and outpatient – some college health centers, and then, of course, a vast number of rural health centers and federally qualified health centers, which is where the Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton center fits in,” Kapp said.
Kapp noted that New Morning’s initiative started with 50 or 60 healthcare providers, and the majority of those providers did not offer family planning services or birth control counseling. Nor did they offer the newest, most effective forms of birth control. That decision, Kapp said, was based on economics.
The federal government provides about $6 million a year to South Carolina for family planning services. That money is directed to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). While some states distribute those funds to public and private healthcare providers, DHEC allocates all of the funding for county health agencies across the state.
To fill the gap, the New Morning’s program offered provider training; integrated contraceptive care into primary care services and offered eight birth control methods for free or at low cost. Since its launch, New Morning has trained nearly 4,000 clinical staff members. As a result of these efforts, the number of women receiving contraceptive services annually increased 224 percent between 2019 and 2021.
“It’s a transformative initiative that a lot of people don’t know about,” Kapp said. “Thankfully, it’s here in South Carolina and we’re really happy to be the coordinating nonprofit for it.”
Providing information about birth control and access to it has been a challenge for New Morning.
“That may sound simple, but it’s not simple in a state like this,” Kapp said. “There are inequities and health disparities and long-standing racial disparities and morality. All women in the state, prior to our initiative, could not access all forms of birth control. What that meant in practice for many women, especially women in rural areas, is that they were limited. If they could find birth control, they were usually limited to the types of birth control they could choose. We don’t particularly think that that is fair. We think that all women, not just economically privileged women, should be able to have the same choices of birth control options.”
A consumer-facing website, www.nodrama.org, was launched by New Morning in 2018 to provide online access to reproductive health information. It has attracted more than 1.4 million unique visitors since its launch.
“I think that that speaks to the lack of information and lack of education in our public systems. Young people of reproductive age are hungry to know what their options are; to understand birth control methods; to understand what’s right for them, what’s a match for their lifestyles and where to get the services.”
The Okatie, Port Royal and Hampton health centers are among 130 clinical sites participating in the largest state-based birth control access program in the United States and the first in the Southeast led by New Morning.
To further support health centers, New Morning has sponsored a statewide public awareness campaign to educate consumers on birth control and how to access care at a partner location. The program is in its sixth year and has provided contraceptive services to more than 340,000 South Carolina women.
“Every woman in South Carolina of reproductive age deserves equitable access to information about how to avoid a mistimed or unwanted pregnancy, and she deserves to have equitable access to all birth control methods, no matter where she lives or her economic status,” Kapp said. “Leaders like Roland Gardner are making this vision a reality for women in the Lowcountry.”
Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.