The United States and Canada face a dangerous shortage of trained abortion providers. In 2000, 87% of the counties in the United States had no provider*. The “graying” of current providers (57% of whom are over the age of 50, violence that targets physicians, and restrictive legislation threaten to drive these numbers even lower. In addition, medical schools are simply not addressing the topic; most physicians are graduating with little more than circumstantial knowledge of abortion.From Medical Students for Choice.
Not all schools or faculties of medicine provide a curriculum that allows their students to acquire, along with the anatomical, physiological and pathological dimensions of reproductive health, knowledge regarding all aspects of contraception in order to address the needs of their male and female patients.
The reasons why schools don't provide comprehensive family planning education go beyond simple time-management issues. For one thing, the same relentless pressure from the anti-choice movement that plagues practicing abortion providers is also directed at medical schools. Susan Wicklund, a Montana OB-GYN and author of "This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor," says, "I've witnessed pressure by antiabortion groups on administrators and professors in medical schools not to discuss abortion. There's the threat of being picketed or boycotted at the school itself if they do any teaching of abortion." Says Creinin, "For anything that creates controversy, it's easy for a med school to say, 'Look, it's not worth it.'"
Furthermore, Backus points out, "Part of it also is that largely in medicine, being equally focused on the full range of women's healthcare needs is still a struggle. What I still hear from medical students is, they get two to three hours on Viagra and half an hour on every contraceptive method combined. That's the reality in American medical education."
That's even more troubling in light of research that shows exposure to comprehensive family planning education, including abortion, is a strong predictor of whether a medical student will go on to become a provider. Says Creinin, "Some residents that come in conflicted, most of them get an idea of what it really is. They realize it's an important part of learning how to be a complete physician." Carolyn's experience bears this out. "I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I saw [an abortion], or if I really wanted to polarize my life that way," she says. But after "meeting the women who came to that clinic, hearing about their lives, counseling them through the procedures -- I can't imagine not doing abortions." That decisive experience, it's important to note, did not come from her school's medical program. "All of my abortion training prior to residency was through elective extracurricular work."
Sigh. I checked their messaging page and discovered that the information about Canadian abortion services and support was wrong. *The medical termination of pregnancy is available in nine provinces and one territory.* I wrote to them, offered the correction, as well as a source for precise pro-choice information in Canada.