The first online class on abortion care starts next week


Abortion providers Dr. Rachael Phelps (left) and Dr. Emily Godfrey (right). (Photo credit: Jocelyn Lee/The New York Times)

This is very cool.

Students and medical professionals, for the first time, can go online for formal training on abortion care, thanks to a new class offered through the University of California, San Francisco.

The course, titled “Abortion: Quality Care and Public Health Implications,” offered through a massive open online course (MOOC), walks students through all things abortion, from its history and legalization in the United States, to clinical aspects of later abortions, to the relationship between early pregnancy loss and abortion care.

More than 3,000 people are already registered for the class.

The course description explains that it aims to “place abortion within the context of public health and fill in the gaps left by its exclusion from mainstream curricula in health professions.” That’s a great service UCSF is providing, but let’s not forget what an outrage it is that it’s so needed. Despite the fact that abortion is one of the single most common medical procedures performed in the US–more prevalent than appendectomies, gallbladder removals, and hysterectomies–a third of medical schools don’t discuss elective abortion at all during the first two pre-clinical years. A quarter of OBGYN clerkships do not include abortion training. The stigma surrounding the procedure in the medical community–as one doctor told RHRC, “People whisper the word abortion. People rarely talk about it, much less learn about it.”–is part of the reason the number of abortion providers has decreased more than 15 percent over the past two decades.

Given how broken our health care system is in so many ways–not to mention how successful the anti-choice movement has been at framing abortion as a political issue, instead of a medical procedure–I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that the medical community is supposed to serve us. (I know, I know–hard to imagine after those eight hours you spent waiting in the ER or that lunch break you wasted fighting to get an unexpected bill covered by your insurance.) Doctors get paid good money with the assumption that they’ve spent many years learning the skills they need to adequately care for their patients. When a survey finds that 97 percent of of OB-GYNs had patients seeking abortion, but only 14 percent could perform them themselves, that means that medical education in this country has utterly and totally failed to do its job.

This has to change, and hopefully this class will help. As the teacher, Dr. Jody Steinauer, said, “I think that if we can inspire even a small portion of the people who take the course to take steps in their communities to increase access to safe abortion and decrease stigma about abortion, then we have been totally successful.”

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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