ABORTION DOCTORS: Demand Outstrips Supply
The nationwide supply of doctors performing abortions is shrinking, the San Mateo County Times reports, largely as "a result of America's anguished view of the most common surgical procedure for women, and the most contentious." A 1990 National Abortion Federation report noted that women's clinics were not able to "fill the positions vacated by retiring abortion doctors," and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that the "number of abortion doctors dropped 8% between 1988 and 1992, from 2,582 to 2,380." A 1995 University of California-Davis study found that "only 12% of all OB/GYN residency programs in the nation require that residents learn to perform abortions, down from 22.6% in 1985." While the number of trained professionals is dwindling, "the demand for abortions isn't." Alan Guttmacher Institute statistics show that "40% of American women will have at least one abortion."
"With women's health clinics under prolonged siege by anti-abortion protesters and the targets of terrorist bombings ... many medical students are choosing a safer route" rather than become abortion providers, the Times reports. Despite the fact that "a majority of doctors say in surveys that they support a woman's right to choose, many are unwilling to endanger their lives or risk having their families harassed by performing abortions" -- a fear escalated by the growing violence against clinic workers. The National Abortion Federation found that in the first four months of 1997, "there were three bombings, three arsons, 12 bomb threats and three acts of extreme vandalism at abortion clinics nationwide."
Changing The Trend
The Times reports that this trend of fewer abortion doctors "may be bucked by the growing presence of women in medicine." Medical Students For Choice was formed in 1993 after a Pensacola, FL, doctor was murdered in a family planning clinic. The group, which has 100 chapters and 4,000 members, "is urging universities to provide more abortion training." "Student organizers are demanding that the schools they attend focus on the shortage of abortion doctors," said Dr. Philip Darney, head of the University of California-San Francisco's OB/GYN department. Darney said, "It's important that medical schools and residency training programs make training in abortion not a requirement, but a routine part of education." However, by law, medical schools offer an "opt-out clause" for students who want to forego abortion training, and "[a]t UCSF, one out of eight students do so," the Times notes. "There is no other procedure in medical school you can elect not to learn," said Linci Comy, an Oakland women's health clinic director. The Times notes that the UCSF medical school is an exception to the overall abortion training trend because a majority of the school's "OB/GYN residents learn to perform abortions." UCSF "rotates OB/GYN residents through a woman's clinic at San Francisco General Hospital."
In Northern California, "women more than 12 weeks pregnant or with complications ... must travel to San Francisco for an abortion," the Times reports. Project Access Director Brenda Cummings "said women who receive Medi-Cal ... have a difficult time getting abortions." She said, "From my perspective, ... it's not that doctors are disappearing, but that there's more and more limits about who they'll see. We have brought women from all over the state to San Francisco for abortions because they can't be seen in their own communities, because they have medical complications." The Times notes that Oakland's Woman's Choice clinic last year stopped providing abortions "for women more than 12 weeks pregnant when its doctor -- who had been providing second trimester abortions all over Northern California -- retired" (de Sa, 3/23).