- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) In an effort to prevent a feared shortage of abortion providers, the nation's largest public hospital system plans to make abortion training a required part of its curriculum for medical residents.
Pro-choice advocates say they hope for a ripple effect as other hospital systems emulate the city and New York-trained doctors move to other states.
But pro-life groups accuse the city which trains one-seventh of the nation's doctors of trying to force abortion into the medical mainstream.
Starting in July, abortion training for obstetrics and gynecology (ob-gyn) residents in New York's 11 public hospitals will become part of the required curriculum, rather than a generally bypassed elective.
Unless they opt out on moral or religious grounds, all residents will learn the latest abortion procedures, including use of the abortion-pill mifepristone and other techniques requiring neither anesthesia nor an operating room.
If the program thrives, "we'll have changed the face of abortion provision in this country," said Christina Page of the New York branch of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "It's going to make other programs question how they're delivering this care."
The New York State Right to Life Committee has accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Republican who approved the initiative, of trying to "shove child-killing down our throats." The committee has warned of "devastating" consequences as New York-trained ob-gyn residents start practices across the country.
Olivia Gans of the National Right to Life Committee criticized New York for obligating residents to "opt out" of abortion training rather than "opt in."
"You put the onus on a young doctor to be brave enough to stand out from the pack," she said.
Nationally, however, Miss Gans predicted abortion won't become widely practiced by the next generation of doctors. Technological advances such as ultrasound are convincing medical students that fetuses are indeed living beings who should not be aborted, she said.
"The knowledge available now has made young doctors reluctant to go into abortion, because that would mean ending one of their two patients' lives," Miss Gans said.
New York's initiative may bring little short-term change to largely rural states with few abortion facilities. Planned Parenthood says about 85 percent of U.S. counties don't have abortion providers.
A more likely impact of the New York program, pro-choice activists say, will be to expand the national pool of abortion providers. Of the roughly 2,000 doctors who now perform abortions, more than half are over 50 and many are nearing retirement.
About 150 ob-gyn residents rotate annually though New York's public hospitals, and abortion-rights groups hope the new program will inspire other residency programs to expand abortion training. At present, most ob-gyn residency programs don't require abortion training, though many offer it as an elective.
Lois Backus, executive director of Medical Students for Choice, said many medical students are pressing residency programs to make the training mandatory.
"On a 120-hour-a week schedule, there's just not any energy to pursue an elective," she said.
About 1.3 million abortions are performed annually in the United States, making abortion one of the nation's most common surgical procedures.
Dr. Allan Rosenfield, dean of Columbia University's School of Public Health, estimated that 15 percent of ob-gyn residents might refuse abortion instruction for reasons of conscience. For the others, he said, "no procedure should be singled out as not part of the training."


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