A North Carolina bill introduced this month would prevent state medical school departments from allowing employees to perform abortions or to “supervise the performance of an abortion”. Essentially, the bill’s sponsors and supporters wants to make teaching how to perform an abortion – a safe, legal and necessary medical procedure – illegal. As The New Republic’s Jamil Smith wrote, if passed, the bill would “produce less intelligent doctors.”
But the more a doctor knows and learns, the more people they can help throughout her career – and no one would choose a doctor who bragged about skipping class. Bills like this must be defeated – and every medical student in the country with a obstetrical and gynecological (OBGYN) focus should be taught how to perform abortions.
Whether a practicing doctor provides abortions is and should be entirely their decision. But teaching medical students how to perform the procedure doesn’t mean that they will automatically go on to provide abortions as a part of their regular medical practice. It would mean, however, that doctors would be able to choose to do so, and that, should an emergency arise that necessitates a knowledge of abortion procedures, those doctors would be prepared to help their patient rather than be in the dark because of a draconian law.
Cities and states that care about women’s health shouldn’t be keeping information from medical students, but giving it to them – and, in New York, that’s already happening. In 2002, then-Mayor Bloomberg made New York the first city in which all OBGYN residents at public hospitals were required to learn how to perform abortions.
Mandates like those are important not only because medical students deserve the most comprehensive education they can receive (and pay for), and because their future patients deserve fully-educated doctors, but because they’re necessary for women’s health.
A politically-motivated ban on teaching abortion has nothing to do with medicine, education or science. And, despite protestations to the contrary, it’s not even about moral or religious exemptions: anti-choice legislators want to stop medical students from learn how to give abortions because the less doctors who can provide the procedure, the more difficult it will become for women to procure it.
Their strategy is already working: the number of doctors who perform abortions has been steadily dwindling for decades. Between 1982 and 2005, the number of abortion providers decreased 38%. As of 2008, there were less than 2,000 providers in the whole country.
Given the the threats that abortion providers endure, this low number is somewhat understandable. The vast majority of doctors that provide abortions have experienced some form of harassment, and the rates of violence directed at clinics are chilling. Performing abortions often means risking your life to bring reproductive care to women – and, as cases like those of Dr George Tiller show, occasionally losing it to a ideologically-motivated killer.
Having fewer doctors trained to perform safe abortions just makes it easier for anti-choice bullies to harass doctors and forces more women to jump through hoops to access legal care. Medical students deserve to be taught in educational settings where medicine and science trump ideology. Because we all want educated doctors and well-cared for women.