- A growing anti-abortion climate is prompting some medical schools to reconsider the training or education they provide.
- Half of all medical schools already include little or no formal education on abortion, with some offering only one lecture course.
- Lawmakers want to make it harder for public schools to teach abortion.
On game day, the holiday in March when medical students find out where they will do their residency training, sophomore medical student Dana Vega was thrilled to learn that she had entered the Texas A&M College of Medical.
Vega didn’t think Texas’ restrictive abortion law would interfere with her right to learn the medical procedure. She soon realized she was wrong.
Now, she says, she is questioning her dream of becoming a doctor in her home country.
“It’s hard to want to work and study in such an anti-abortion state, it’s super hard to find abortion education,” she said. “I’ve even encountered the reluctance of many medical mentors in Texas to talk about abortions in the past.”
Across the country, as conservative states strive to impose laws or measures aimed at curbing abortions and those who perform them, a chill has run through the community of medical students, medical instructors and others. physicians involved in abortion care. Those who have already been trained in the procedure say the anti-abortion rhetoric creates an environment in which they must choose between being employed or providing what they see as a necessary service, while students say it becomes even more difficult to learn this vital skill.
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“We are experiencing something in the United States that is truly unprecedented,” said Pamela Merritt, executive director of Medical Students for Choice, an organization with more than 200 chapters in 28 countries that advocates for education and training in life. ‘abortion. “Our members are horrified to be faced with this.”
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Medical students receive limited training on abortion
Abortion education and training is already limited for many students in the United States. In 2020, researchers at Stanford University found that half of medical schools offered little or no formal abortion training; some only offered one lecture. Abortion training is not offered at Oklahoma’s two medical schools, for example, and education on the subject is limited.
While US medical schools require students to complete an internship in obstetrics and gynecology, there is no requirement that their training cover abortion treatment. At the post-graduate level, OB-GYN residency programs are required by an accreditation panel to provide access to abortion training, although residents who object may refuse to perform abortions.
Abortion training includes the tools needed for miscarriage, dilation and curettage, or D&C operations. D&C is a surgical procedure in which the cervix is dilated so that the uterine lining can be scraped off to remove abnormal tissue, a vital technique to ensure a woman does not die from excessive bleeding during pregnancy. a miscarriage, Bourne said.
But recent state laws have made it even harder to access the already limited abortion education. An Idaho law last year enacted bans on using tuition and fees for abortion and related activities at school clinics in institutions that receive state funds. In Missouri, a Republican state senator has reintroduced a bill that would tax endowments from universities with medical schools that perform or provide training in abortions.
Other efforts include a Wisconsin bill that would ban employees of the University of Wisconsin and its hospitals from participating in abortions, including training. He did not move forward in March but his sponsor is considering reintroducing the measure.
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In Mississippi, Francesco Martin, a first-year medical student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said he was criticized when asked about abortion training.
Last year, when Martin failed to correspond with the University of California-Davis medical school, he opted for a spot in the Mississippi program. Martin said that while he was relieved to attend medical school, he was hesitant to train in a predominantly anti-abortion state.
The state has only one licensed abortion center, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and it offers abortion procedures up to 16 weeks pregnant.
Among his peers, Martin said, he heard anti-abortion conversations and a general disdain for doctors who chose to perform abortions. Until recently, he avoided expressing his desire to undergo abortion training for fear of being judged.
“When I told another medical student that I wanted to learn about abortions, they basically told me to do my residency somewhere else,” Martin said.
Similarly, Vega said that when her residency begins in her third year of medical school, she hopes to transfer to a state where abortion training and procedures are more accessible. She said she turned to local doctors and hospitals for help after finding Texas A&M abortion training inadequate, but most refused for fear of being associated with abortion in a strongly anti-abortion region.
Vega and Martin said it was unfair that they enrolled thousands of people in medical schools only to have restricted access to abortion training and education. Martin said the policy should not prevent students from learning or practicing the procedure.
“It’s disheartening to know that thousands of students like me are seeing their education limited,” Vega said. “Without abortion education, I also won’t learn the basics of saving someone’s life during a dangerous miscarriage. I’m paying to be educated. That’s what I demand.”
Merritt of Medical Students for Choice said she was alarmed to learn that schools in the University of Texas system were hesitant about whether to teach abortion. As such fears spread to other states, medical schools, she said, have an obligation to be open about what their curriculum will entail so prospective students can make informed decisions.
“If this is the path states with bans want to take, they need to be honest and transparent with potential and current students about the changes in the quality of education they’re going to receive,” Merritt said. “And medical schools need to make declarative statements about whether they’re going to retain this fundamental role of abortion in family planning and health care or whether they’re going to regress with the states they’re in.”
Doctors have warned they will lose their jobs or face jail
It’s not just medical students who worry about how abortion policies will affect their ability to provide care.
Christina Bourne, medical director of Trust Women, a women’s health clinic in Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City, said many doctors and conservative state leaders both discouraged students from training in abortion and doctors to perform it.
The growing anti-abortion climate, she said, only deepened the lingering terror that followed the May 31, 2009 fatal shooting in Wichita of physician George Tiller by an anti-abortion extremist.
“In Kansas and Oklahoma, the murder of George Tiller still reverberates and scares people into open training or performing abortions,” Bourne said. “Then that fear is tripled with Oklahoma’s SB 612 bill and similar ones in Texas.”
On Tuesday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law SB 612, making abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. While Bourne hopes the bill will ultimately be thrown out by a judge, she said such laws, and the ensuing stigma around abortion, create challenges for students and doctors who want to learn or perform the procedure.
In Kansas, Quinn Jackson, a board-certified family physician at an abortion clinic, said state barriers to abortion procedures have complicated doctors’ ability to provide patients with care. adequate. Patients must undergo ultrasounds and multiple visits, while those from states like Texas must pay for accommodation and transportation.
Limits on doctors performing abortions are new, Jackson noted. During Jackson’s residency in Arizona, they were trained to perform abortions up to 16 weeks and then independently trained up to 20 weeks and six days, the Kansas limit.
jackson said Kansas doctors are told that performing abortions will make it harder to find a job at another hospital or clinic.
“I’m about to start a new job where they specifically told me I couldn’t perform an abortion,” they said. “Most doctors in Kansas have to choose between a job and performing abortions.”