(AP) — Browse any medical dictionary, and before hitting appendectomy and anesthesia, you’ll find abortion.
The first two procedures are part of standard physician education. But for many U.S. medical school students and residents who want to learn about abortions, options are scarce.
And new restrictions are piling up: Within the past year, bills or laws seeking to limit abortion education have been proposed or enacted in at least eight states. The changes are coming from abortion opponents emboldened by new limits on the procedure itself, as well as a pending Supreme Court decision that could upend the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
“It’s quite terrifying what’s going on,” said Ian Peake, a third-year medical student in Oklahoma, where the governor on April 12 signed a measure outlawing most abortions.
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Abortion training is not offered at Oklahoma’s two medical schools and education on the topic is limited. Aspiring doctors who want to learn about it typically seek out doctors providing abortions outside the traditional medical education system.
Peake, 32, said if he wanted to learn to do colonoscopies, for example, he could work with school staff to shadow a doctor doing research or working in a clinic.
“That would be easy,” he said. “To do the same for abortion, that’s almost impossible.” He said it took him six months to find a provider willing to teach him.
Nevada medical student Natasha McGlaun got outside training and created a workshop on how to perform a standard medical procedure used in abortions. She offers it at night, in her own free time.
The 27-year-old is the daughter of “pro-feminist” parents and the mother of two young girls whose right to reproductive choice she wants to protect.
“It was kind of a joke in my family: If people tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to do it twice as hard,” she said. “I kind of feel this moral, righteous drive to go for it.”
‘GLARINGLY ABSENT’ LESSONS
U.S. physician education typically includes four years of medical school, where students learn the basics of general medicine and hands-on patient care. They graduate with a medical degree that officially makes them doctors. Most then spend at least three years in residency programs where they receive intense on-the-job training and specialty skills.
U.S. medical schools require students to complete a clerkship in obstetrics and gynecology, but there is no mandate that it include abortion education. At the post-graduate level, OB-GYN residency programs are required by an accrediting group to provide access to abortion training, though residents who object can opt out of performing abortions.
OB-GYNs perform most U.S. abortions, followed by family medicine specialists. But these aren’t always the first doctors that women encounter when they learn of an unintended pregnancy. Abortion rights supporters argue all physicians should know enough about the procedure to inform and counsel patients, and that such education should start in medical school.
In 2020, Stanford University researchers said they found that half of medical schools included no formal abortion training or only a single lecture.
“Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures,” they wrote. “Yet abortion-related topics are glaringly absent from medical school curricula.”
McGlaun helped sponsor a measure last year that asked the American Medical Association to support mandated abortion education in medical schools, with an opt-out provision. The influential group has long opposed curriculum mandates and turned down the proposal, but it said it supports giving medical students and residents the chance to learn about abortion and opposes efforts to interfere with such training.