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Abortion Training Remains Scarce in Medical Residency Programs

Abortion Training Remains Scarce in Medical Residency Programs

February 28, 2014 — Despite efforts by advocacy groups to boost access to abortion training for ob-gyn residents, "relatively few" residency programs offer it, the Daily Beast reports.

Groups such as Medical Students for Choice, the Ryan Residency and the University of California-San Francisco's Family Planning Fellowship have helped create a system of mentors and teachers in the reproductive health industry who specifically teach abortion care. However, many residents who want abortion training have to take it as an elective or through an "externship" at a freestanding clinic.

The problem dates to the 1990s, when violent demonstrations by antiabortion-rights protesters deterred many students and teaching institutions from pursuing abortion education. Meanwhile, abortion providers who were trained in the 1960s and 1970s were retiring.

In 1996, Congress "took the unprecedented step" of nullifying curriculum requirements issued by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education that required abortion training, the Daily Beast reports. The change meant that medical education programs could exclude abortion training without risking the loss of their federal funding. Today, only 40% of ob-gyn programs offer comprehensive abortion training, according to the Daily Beast.

Other Obstacles to Abortion Training

Carole Joffe, a sociologist and author of two books on the history of abortion rights, said that the abortion "training situation in many places is still subject to abortion politics." For example, medical residents working in Ohio had to travel to Detroit for abortion training after state regulations closed an Ohio clinic.

If a resident works at a Catholic hospital, there might not be any opportunities to study abortion care, explained Debra Stulberg, a family practitioner and University of Chicago researcher. In 2011, she published a paper that found only 14% of ob-gyns provided abortions, even though 97% encountered patients who were seeking abortion care.

Joffe added, "Hospitals, medical schools, others who you would think might be neutral or even take a pro-reproductive-health stance, often are just afraid -- afraid of protests, afraid of attention" (Golden, Daily Beast, 2/27).