The Role of Medical Education in Preserving Abortion Access

By Rachel Walden — June 18, 2009

A recent piece at Salon by Kate Harding (also of Shapely Prose) asks, Is there a next generation of abortion providers? Harding explains that while fear of violence and growing up after Roe may play a role in medical students’ decisions not to learn to perform abortions, “another factor keeping young doctors away from providing abortions is lack of comprehensive family planning training in medical schools.”

Harding points out that “fewer than 50 institutions in the U.S., out of 130 accredited medical schools, offer abortion training as part of their residency programs.” Harding also profiles one ob/gyn who explains that the one hour of lecture material on abortion she received in her first two years of med school was delivered by an anti-choice professor who misrepresented both state law and the medical evidence on abortion.

Harding also interviewed Susan Wicklund, author of This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor, and Dr. Mitchell Crenin of the Society for Family Planning. Each notes that anti-choice pressure on medical school administration has reduced access to training, as schools seek to avoid controversy by avoiding the topic of abortion.

A few organizations are working to increase access to (accurate) abortion-related training. Medical Students for Choice (MSFC, mentioned in the Salon piece) does student organizing and advocacy to influence medical school curricula, workshops (including the “papaya” workshops mentioned in this Double Dose) and lectures on abortion techniques. The organization also helps to link medical students and residents with family planning externships. They also maintain a list of ob/gyn residencies that provide abortion training. MSFC began in 1992, after two incidents occurred back to back:  medical students across the U.S. received anti-choice mailers at home, and abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was murdered.

The Ryan Program (which I learned about via this reader and doula/midwife-turned-med student) has as its mission “to increase and strengthen training opportunities in abortion and contraception for residents in obstetrics and gynecology and to encourage and support residents’ exposure to evidence-based clinical care and research in the field of family planning.” Based at UC San Francisco, the program provides funding, technical expertise, curriculum, workshops, and other resources to support training opportunities in abortion and contraception for ob/gyn residents.

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health works with American Medical Student Association members to provide “project in a box” materials for medical students wanting to assess and influence their schools’ curricula on sexual and reproductive health.

For more on this topic, see the Salon piece as well as the organizational websites linked above.

5 responses to “The Role of Medical Education in Preserving Abortion Access”

  1. Thanks for this great and important blog posting. The role of medical education in crucial to preserving abortion access.

    The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) also has been working to address the challenge of limited reproductive health education and training for health professions students (future doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, etc.) for many years. To that end, ARHP has developed three powerful, free online resources for students, faculty, and professionals.

    (1) Students like Carolyn seeking elective and extracurricular reproductive health training can use ARHP’s Global Opportunities (GO) Tool ( as a clearinghouse to find unique educational and training experiences in reproductive health settings around the world.

    (2) ARHP has also created the Curricula Organizer for Reproductive Health Education (CORE) for students, faculty, and professionals to access peer-reviewed, evidence-based slides, presentations, and teaching materials. CORE ( is a collaborative effort of organizations working to improve the quality and quantity of reproductive health information included in health professions education.

    (3) Health practitioners can retrieve even more supplementary reproductive health information from the Reproductive Health Topic Areas of ARHP’s new Web site ( The collection of resources in each topic area provides students and professionals with links to continuing education opportunities, clinical publications, patient resources, featured research, breaking news, and other partner organizations working in reproductive health.

  2. Janet,

    Thank you so much for providing this additional information, and let me assure you that no slight was intended in its omission from the original post.

  3. Hey! That’s me!

    Great post. We had one hour on abortion, and that included spontaneous abortion, incomplete abortions and missed abortions. It was taught by the head of the department, who is wonderful and pro choice. He is also well past the typical retirement age and not in the best of health. The next in command in the ob/gyn department relishes telling the class that he is “pro-life”.

    I am lucky that the residency program closest to me is a Ryan program, and has three attendings who have completed family planning fellowships.

  4. I am deeply saddened to read that you are so determined to spread the horror of abortion even through out an area that is strictly geared to harvesting life. I myself am a pre-med student who is searching for an institution that will not ask me to compromise my values and instruct me in how to do something that is Completely against my conscience. I believe that abortion is wrong in every aspect, at any stage. All life is precious. I pray that pro-life members who care just as much for the women as they do the babies will one day reach your understanding and morph your position towards abortion into a conviction that embraces all life. And I pray that the medical field will respect the consciences of pro-life individuals like me who are entering the realm of humanitarian charity that can be found in the medicine.

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