Most Americans are familiar with the increasingly harsh restrictions which state lawmakers are placing on the ability of women to receive abortions, but what some may not know is that the lack of abortion training in the United States is another major issue. Moreover, medical professionals are now facing new limitations at the state level which make it even more difficult for them to access training and education on how to perform an abortion.
Even prior to the introduction of new laws to crack down on abortion education, there has been a shortage of abortion training in the medical field. According to research conducted at Stanford University in 2020, only half of medical schools in the nation include formal abortion training or simply one lecture on the procedure. The researchers responded to this data in their writings, explaining that, “Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures. Yet abortion-related topics are glaringly absent from medical school curricula.”
During their four years of medical school, students are indeed required to complete a clerkship in obstetrics and gynecology, the fields specializing in women’s reproductive health. However, this clerkship does not require abortion education, and only “45% of clerkship directors stated that they provided clinical exposure to abortion.” Furthermore, once students graduate medical school and enter their three-year OB-GYN residency, they are not required to perform abortions and only receive basic training on the procedure. Due in part to the lack of a strict requirement of training on the procedure of an abortion, there is an insufficient amount of abortion providers in the traditional American medical field, which jeopardizes women’s health.
While the students who do have the opportunity to receive clinical abortion education consistently express how much they value their education on abortion, they also feel that what they learn is insufficient. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists conducted a survey which revealed that “At the end of their third year of clinical training at a program offering routine abortion experiences, 45% of students surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with the clinical opportunities available.”
Although quality options for medical students and residents in the United States to learn about abortion were already few and far between, new restrictions at the state level are intent on eliminating all access to abortion education in the medical community. Over the last year, these new pieces of legislation, which will crack down on access to abortion education, have either been proposed or enacted in at least eight states. The introduction of these laws is a result of anti-abortion groups and individuals gaining confidence after the rise of new, more severe restrictions on receiving abortions in many states, as well as the Supreme Court dispute over Roe v. Wade.
There are numerous examples of these recent efforts to enforce anti-abortion education laws. Last year, a new law in Idaho prevented the use of “tuition and fees for abortion and related activities in school-based clinics at institutions that receive state funds.” Additionally, government leaders in Wisconsin, Missouri, and Ohio have attempted to pass bills which will prevent each state’s public university hospitals and their employees from participating in the performance of abortions and abortion training altogether.
So, how do medical students respond to these attempts at curbing abortion education? On April 12th, the governor of Oklahoma signed a bill to outlaw most abortions. A third-year medical student named Ian Peake was horrified by the measures being taken to make abortion illegal in such states. “It’s quite terrifying what’s going on,” said Peake regarding the increasingly strict limitations on abortion being introduced.
Peake also reflected that it is much more difficult to locate a provider who will teach medical students how to perform abortions compared to other procedures such as colonoscopies. In Oklahoma, training to perform abortions is not offered at the two medical schools in-state and education on the topic is heavily limited. Due to this inaccessibility, students like Peake often resort to seeking training and education on abortions from doctors outside of the traditional educational system for medicine.
Take Divya Jain— a Missouri medical school student. Jain explains that the abortion procedure was rarely discussed at her medical school, leading her first experience as a medical worker dealing with abortion to occur at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kansas. “It’s just a normal in-house procedure,” she said. “It’s just patients seeking medical treatment.”
Jain was able to learn about abortions— and the struggle which pregnant women endure in order to receive one— at the clinic, and the exposure to the topic inspired her to become an abortion provider in states which traditionally deny women the opportunity to receive one.
Some medical students are even taking the initiative to create their own programs to train other students on abortions. One of these students is Natasha McGlaun, a student in Nevada. McGlaun herself received abortion training from outside of the traditional medical educational system and used her new knowledge to establish a nighttime workshop instructing students on how to perform the standard procedure of an abortion.
It is not just students who want to see change in the field of abortion education: Educators also want to improve access to abortion training. Keith Reisinger-Kindle, an associate director of Wright State University School of Medicine's OB-GYN residency program, has challenged his school’s lack of any formal abortion training since joining the university staff two years ago, offering abortion coursework to students and training at a clinic off-campus. An avid supporter of boosting abortion training, he admits that it has been challenging to achieve his goals due to anti-abortion legislation— particularly pushback from Ohio’s governor. While Reisinger-Kindle worries about the addition of more abortion restrictions in the imminent future, he also remains optimistic: “In the long-term, I believe we will get this right. I just hope that my students don’t have to suffer.”
“Abortion Training and Education.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Nov. 2014, https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2014/11/abortion-training-and-education. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022.
Tanner, Lindsey. “Abortion training under threat for med students, residents.” ABC News, 18 Apr. 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/abortion-training-threat-med-students-
residents-84145860. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.
About the Author:
Karenna Marnik is a sophomore student. Over the past year, Karenna has developed an interest in journalism and has even contributed to her school’s newspaper. Additionally, she is passionate about sailing, debate club, and participating in student leadership. Karenna also enjoys a lifestyle filled with exercise and the outdoors, particularly hiking and skiing.