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Medical students in states with abortion bans have trouble getting needed training


Medical students in states with abortion bans are having trouble getting all the training they need. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, is co-sponsoring new legislation to address the issue. NPR's Pien Huang reports.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Sami Stroebel started medical school last summer. She's an aspiring OB-GYN at the University of Wisconsin, which has gotten complicated.

SAMI STROEBEL: The Dobbs decision came out, I mean, within weeks of me starting medical school. And I sat there before I began and was like, how is this going to change the education that I'm going to get? And how is this going to change my experience wanting to provide this care to patients in the future?

HUANG: Stroebel, who co-leads her school's chapter of the national advocacy group Medical Students for Choice, wants to learn to provide abortion care. But the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision made abortion rights a state-by-state issue. And Wisconsin...

STROEBEL: So Wisconsin reverted to the 1849 law where abortion is essentially completely illegal, except in cases where they say that the woman's life is in imminent danger.

HUANG: Which really limits the ability of patients to access abortion. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, says it also means that in states like hers with restrictive laws, medical schools can't teach abortion care.

TAMMY BALDWIN: The students and their supervising clinicians have to travel out of state to get that component of their training. Meanwhile, neighboring states - and this is happening across the United States - are accepting an influx of students.

HUANG: She's co-sponsoring a bill with Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, called the Reproductive Health Care Training Act. It establishes a grant program to provide $25 million each year for the next five years to fund medical students who leave their states to learn abortion care and programs that train them. They're introducing it in the Senate today. Baldwin says that since the Dobbs decision, there's been a 10% drop in OB-GYN medical residents who are applying to practice in her state.

BALDWIN: It is exacerbating what was already a shortage of providers in the state providing maternity care and cancer screenings and other routine care.

HUANG: Dr. Christina Francis, head of the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs, says medical training and pregnancy care does need to be better. But from her perspective, it should focus on routine care for preeclampsia, diabetes and C-sections.

CHRISTINA FRANCIS: We need to be investing money into taking better care of women during their pregnancies and after, and not investing money in ending the life of one of our patients and harming our other patient in the process.

HUANG: Studies do show that most patients who have had abortions don't regret getting one. And Stroebel, the medical student in Wisconsin, worries about patients who live in abortion-restricted states.

STROEBEL: It is scary to think that, you know, if a lot of OB-GYNs and up and coming medical students want this training and they can't get it in places like Wisconsin or Idaho or Alabama or Texas, what's going to happen to the people who need that care in those states?

HUANG: Given the legal landscape, Stroebel's not sure how or where she'll practice in the future. For now, she just wants to finish her medical education with the state school that she's enrolled in.

Pien Huang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.