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Requests for sterilization after 'Dobbs' decision wasn't just a temporary trend

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, doctors said a wave of young people started showing up in their offices, asking for permanent birth control, like tubal ligations or vasectomies. And that trend has held strong in the two years following the court's decision, according to new research published in JAMA. Montana Public Radio's Aaron Bolton reports on how doctors are handling the uptick.

AARON BOLTON, BYLINE: When the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion, University of Pittsburgh researcher Jackie Ellison wanted to know whether the decision would drive more adults under 30 to get sterilized. So she checked the data.

JACKIE ELLISON: We saw a pretty substantial increase in both tubal ligation and vasectomy procedures in response to Dobbs.

BOLTON: Her research found that the number of tubal ligations doubled between June 2022 and September of last year. Although vasectomies more than tripled during that same time, men are getting sterilized much less often than women. OB-GYNs like Dr. Gina Nelson in Kalispell, Mont., say they're seeing this in their clinics.

GINA NELSON: People talk about sterilization more. They ask about it more, and they get them more.

BOLTON: And more of them are young, child-free patients. Nelson feels better equipped to talk them through the process compared to when she started practicing 30 years ago.

NELSON: When I was a young provider, I think I might have had a 21-year-old insist that she wanted her tubes tied. And I wanted to respect her rights, but I also wanted her to consider a number of future scenarios. So I actually made her write an essay for me. And then she brought it, and she jumped through all the hoops. And I tied her tubes.

BOLTON: Nelson says she doesn't make patients jump through hoops like that today. She's shifted to simply having conversations about options, risks and benefits. That's something the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports. Helena-based OB-GYN Alexis O'Leary says she's noticed a generational divide between her and older doctors when it comes to female sterilization.

ALEXIS O'LEARY: I will routinely see patients that have been declined by other people because of - you might want to have kids in the future; you don't have enough kids - you know? Are you sure you want to do this? It's not reversible.

BOLTON: Sophia Ferst was one of those patients. She asked her doctor for a tubal ligation a few years ago in her early 20s.

SOPHIA FERST: When I asked for sterilization after having the IUD for maybe a year, his response was to have me bring in my partner and one of my parents. And I was shocked by that.

BOLTON: Ferst refused and stuck with her IUD. The overturning of Roe v. Wade convinced her she needed to ask again. She's found a younger OB-GYN who has agreed to sterilize her later this year. For NPR News, Aaron Bolton in Columbia Falls, Mont.

CHANG: And this story comes from NPR's partnership with Montana Public Radio and KFF Health News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUN B AND STATIK SELEKTAH SONG, "STILL TRILL (FEAT. METHOD MAN & GRAFH)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.