How hard is it for women in Appalachia to get an abortion, and what’s the impact on their health if access is a problem?

Jennifer O’Donnell wants to know the answers to those questions. As part of her research, she has waited inside waiting rooms in health clinics and outside shopping centers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia to ask women if they’d be willing to share their experiences seeking reproductive health services.

A doctoral candidate in maternal and child health in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), O’Donnell is gathering data for research on how “who you are” and “where you live” impacts access to abortion services. “We often hear how poor rural women’s access to abortion is, but there’s not much evidence to back it up,” said O’Donnell.

O’Donnell was one of several HSPH doctoral student speakers at a day-long Women’s Health Symposium in Kresge 502 on January 23, 2014, presented by the Reproductive, Perinatal, and Pediatric Epidemiology and the Maternal and Child Health concentrations at HSPH. Other speakers included keynoter George Davey Smith, professor of clinical epidemiology from the University of Bristol, UK; Janet Rich-Edwards, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH; and Karin Michels, also an associate professor in the department, who served as moderator.

Lack of access to abortion services can have serious public health implications, O’Donnell said.

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