Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Washington Post Examines the Choice to Become an Abortion Provider

The Washington Post Magazine on Sunday followed a University of Maryland medical student’s path to choosing a specialty. Lesley Wojick, a member of the group Medical Students for Choice, was certain she wanted to work in obstetrics and gynecology and become an abortion provider. Ultimately, she chooses not to work in ob/gyn, a decision she struggled with. Her experience gives us a clearer look into the challenges that young medical students who want to become abortion providers face.

According to the article, abortion is mentioned rarely in the first three or four years of medical school, when students must begin to focus on a specialty and eventually apply for residency training. Students who want to learn about abortion must participate in an “externship” with a provider, as abortion is not taught in any formal lectures. This enormous lack of education about abortion will lead to diminished numbers of providers in the state. In fact, in Maryland, only 6 of the 24 counties have abortion providers. What is the use in having the right to an abortion if you cannot find a health care provider who offers abortion care? The right to choose will be practically meaningless without trained abortion providers.

The story also detailed the everyday trials of being abortion provider. During a conference organized by Lesley and the Medical Students for Choice, long-time abortion providers Dr. Carole Meyers and Dr. Myron Rose described the dangers of being a provider only a decade ago. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, clinics were bombed and a few doctors were killed. Today, the violence has lessened considerably, but some providers are still concerned with the possibility of harassment by anti-choice advocates.

Very rarely is this aspect of the abortion debate scrutinized. According to Medical Students for Choice (, only 15% of chief residents in family medicine residency programs had clinical experience providing first trimester abortions. Abortion training in ob/gyn residency programs is also severely limited. And only 5% of abortions are performed in hospitals, where most medical students and residents are trained.

Abortion is one of the most common procedures in the United States. 49% of pregnancies among American women are unintended; half of these end in abortion. Pro-choice doctors and activists should continue to advocate for formal abortion training in medical schools and residency in an effort to educate students about this important procedure. Because without trained providers, there will not be any meaningful right to choose.

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