The Role of Medical Education in Preserving Abortion Access

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.

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