We need to support and encourage new abortion providers

NPR reported yesterday that a new study suggests less OB-GYNs are providing abortions than previously thought:

Ninety-seven percent of OB-GYNs have encountered patients wanting an abortion, but only 14 percent of the doctors perform them, according to a study published today in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. That finding suggests a smaller percentage of OB-GYNs may be offering abortion services than previous studies have estimated.

Access to abortion has become more limited over the past few decades, the researchers write. Another recent study found that in 2008, 87 percent of U.S. counties (where 35 percent of reproductive-aged women live) didn’t have any abortion providers. Since 1996, however, all OB-GYN residents have been required to learn how to perform the procedure.

As so many of us in the reproductive justice movement keep repeating, legal abortion is meaningless if the procedure is inaccessible. And a shortage of providers definitely means limited access. This study focused specifically on OB-GYNs, a group that really should be performing abortions if you forget about how politicized the procedure is and remember it should be a standard part of reproductive health care. There are plenty of other folks who want to be trained as providers, too, but don’t get a chance to learn the procedure.

I’ve talked to a lot of nursing and medical students who want to provide abortions. They’re up against massive backlash, against anti-choice terrorists literally calling for the murder of providers, and laws that make performing abortions incredibly difficult. And they still want to do this vital work.

We need to make sure these young people can be trained. There are efforts underway to encourage teaching the procedure to medical students. We need more of this. We need current providers who are willing encourage students to learn the procedure and then willing to train them.

We also need a movement that is more supportive of our allies in the medical community. A lot of us fighting for reproductive justice have had negative experiences with the medical establishment and its approach to our reproductive capacity, including sterilization, forced C-sections, etc. While holding this reality, we have to be careful about scaring away potential providers. I’ve heard students express feelings of alienation from the movement because of their desire to enter the medical establishment. We’ve got to work on this, because we need advocates for reproductive justice inside hospitals, clinics, and family practices if we ever hope to see change.

Organizations like Medical Students for Choice and Nursing Students for Choice need support for their vital work.

And of course we need to continue standing against anti-abortion terrorist campaigns, because they are designed precisely to scare people away from accessing the procedure and to make us afraid of making it accessible. We need a new public conversation about abortion, one that’s based in the lived experience and needs of actual people seeking abortions, not impersonal political rhetoric.

Yeah, I think we’ve got a lot of needs. The movement for abortion access is pretty incredible, but we’re up against a lot, and a movement always has to keep moving forward, so it makes sense there’s a lot of areas for us to work on. Our approach has to be holistic if we are going to make universal abortion access a reality. And a piece of that approach must be increasing the number of new abortion providers.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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