The national network of publicly funded family planning clinics has long provided critical access to contraceptives and related care for women in the United States. In recent years, many clinics have made family planning and other services even more accessible to their communities, and have successfully responded to the demands of a changing health care marketplace, according to Publicly Funded Family Planning Clinics in 2015: Patterns and Trends in Service Delivery Practices and Protocols,” by Mia R. Zolna and Jennifer J. Frost. Notwithstanding these improvements, there remains wide variation in service provision among different types of clinics.

Compared with 2010, in 2015 a greater proportion of family planning clinics offered a broad range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods. More clinics were able to offer same-day appointments, and the average wait time for appointments was shorter, in 2015 than in 2010. Also, the proportion of clinics that reported having contracts with health plans serving Medicaid beneficiaries doubled, and the proportion affiliated with plans serving private enrollees rose by an even greater degree, suggesting that health insurers recognize the value of including safety-net family planning providers in their networks.

“The nation’s publicly funded family planning safety net plays a critical role in providing basic sexual and reproductive health services to millions of people,” says lead author Mia Zolna. “This new study suggests that many clinics are improving the scope and accessibility of their services, which helps their clients avoid unintended pregnancies, plan their families and obtain a wide range of preventive services that protect their health and well-being.”

However, data from this nationally representative survey of publicly funded family planning clinics revealed that service provision varied widely by clinic characteristics. For instance, compared with clinics that provide family planning services in a broader primary care context, clinics that specialize in reproductive health care were significantly more likely to have protocols in place to facilitate women’s timely access to a wide range of contraceptive methods. Similarly, clinics funded by Title X—the only federal program devoted to providing family planning services to low-income and underserved women—performed much better on key indicators of contraceptive method choice and accessibility than providers not funded by Title X. And clinics operated by Planned Parenthood affiliates were by far the provider type most likely to offer a broad range of contraceptive options on-site, including LARC methods, and to make it easy for women to obtain and start their chosen method.

“These data show that family planning clinics provide indispensable access to high-quality contraceptive and related services,” says Kinsey Hasstedt, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute. “It is also clear that clinics that focus on reproductive health are better equipped to deliver quality, timely contraceptive care to the greatest number of women. Policymakers should put ideology aside and ensure these providers have the resources and support they need to be able to continue delivering critical services to the communities that rely on them.”