Medical Training Programs Teach Abortion Procedures. What Happens if Abortion is Outlawed?
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The potential elimination of federal abortion rights will not only create more obstacles for women seeking abortions but also hinder the training of medical professionals in abortion procedures. This is considered a crucial skill by doctors and other healthcare providers who specialize in women’s health.
This poses a significant public health concern, as stated by one doctor, as it impacts not only patients seeking abortions but also those who experience miscarriages or stillbirths.
The decision regarding a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks is expected to be delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court soon. A leaked draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion suggests a call to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
If the final opinion aligns with this conclusion, it would reinstate an 1849 state law in Wisconsin that prohibits most abortions. Although legal challenges are expected, if this centuries-old law is enforced, terminating a pregnancy would become a criminal offense regardless of the circumstances.
Overturning Roe could potentially jeopardize, and even end, the training in abortion procedures for medical residents specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in states like Wisconsin that have implemented abortion bans. OB/GYN residency programs are required to provide this training, and in the worst-case scenario, Wisconsin’s programs may lose national accreditation.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) establishes the requirements for medical residency programs in all specialties, including obstetrics and gynecology. These programs must include a family planning curriculum that incorporates training in abortion provision. OB/GYN residents must also gain experience in managing abortion-related complications and receive training in various forms of contraception.
Religious or morally objecting residents have the option to abstain from participating in abortion training or performing abortions, as per the requirements.
By enforcing a consistent set of standards across all residency programs, the ACGME ensures that patients have access to high-quality care nationwide, explains Susan White, a spokesperson for the council. If performing certain aspects of family planning becomes illegal in some states, the ACGME is exploring alternative pathways to fulfill this training requirement.
UW Health, which sponsors an OB/GYN residency program in Madison, is prepared for potential implications resulting from the Supreme Court’s final decision on Roe v. Wade. Emily Kumlien, UW Health’s press secretary, emphasizes their commitment to monitor any changes to requirements and maintain the continuity of their comprehensive training opportunities.
Beyond the field of OB/GYN, Dr. Abigail Cutler of Madison highlights the importance of teaching medical students and residents how to counsel patients in various pregnancy-related situations. These include unintended pregnancies, pregnancy complications, fetal abnormalities, maternal health issues, and the experience of miscarriages. Such training is crucial for all physicians who encounter patients capable of becoming pregnant, not just OB/GYNs.
(Note: Dr. Abigail Cutler clarifies that her opinion represents her views as a private citizen and medical professional, not as a representative of the medical school.)
In surveys conducted among OB/GYN doctors, those who had limited or no training in abortion care expressed feeling unprepared to provide comprehensive care to individuals experiencing a miscarriage, according to Cutler. On the other hand, doctors who had more exposure and experience in abortion care showed a correlation with their comfort level in managing miscarriages surgically in later stages. Cutler expresses concern that if a state’s laws restrict or ban abortion, it will limit access to the necessary training, which can have detrimental effects.
Cutler highlights that one out of every five pregnancies ends in abortion and restricting access to this healthcare service leads to preventable health issues and even death. She emphasizes that this is a significant public health concern.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the primary professional association in the field, updated its longstanding policy in May to support abortion rights. The updated policy states that all individuals should have access to comprehensive and evidence-based healthcare, including abortion. Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, ACOG’s president and board chair, states that abortion is a critical medical intervention, and the revised policy aims to convey that doctors and patients, not lawmakers, should make decisions regarding patients’ health and well-being.
Surveys have shown widespread support for abortion rights and abortion care among doctors. A survey conducted by the Collaborative for Reproductive Equity (CORE) at the UW medical school in 2019 found that over 90% of doctors believed that overturning Roe v Wade would negatively impact women’s health in Wisconsin. Jenny Higgins, the director of CORE, states that the survey included doctors from various medical specialties and revealed overwhelming support for abortion services and providers. Additionally, a majority of respondents expressed concerns that increased abortion restrictions would make it more difficult to attract faculty and trainees.
Cutler has noticed a strong desire for training and education in abortion care among residents and medical students. She anticipates that this demand will continue even if Roe v Wade is overturned, possibly increasing the need for such training. However, the availability of this training will be limited to only a small number of states.