In my small class of just 100 students at Stanford School of Medicine, many of my peers dream of becoming neurosurgeons. The ability to save lives from the most devastating of diseases drives them to enter the most competitive and demanding of fields.
I, too, want to save lives from the devastating circumstances that unfairly befall all of us. But it is not neurosurgery that interests me.
Instead, I dream of becoming something else entirely: a gynecologist providing the full spectrum of reproductive services – including abortion.
And – in a time when reproductive rights are more under siege and the profile of the courts is changing – I want to illuminate what it is like to train for this profession as a medical student.
Earlier this year, I attended a training institute for future physicians interested in abortion, hosted by Medical Students for Choice. In addition to learning the procedural skills required of our future work, we listened to advice from current clinicians.
What they told me scared me: put the deed of your home in your partner’s name, drive a different route to work each day, don’t post pictures with your children online.
While I am just a medical student – and far less brave than the family planning physicians practicing each day – I have already begun to encounter what this looks like. Even at my fairly progressive medical school, there is pushback.
After hosting a first-trimester abortion skills workshop for my classmates, some fellow students organized a meeting in protest. One came up to me directly, calling my work “disgusting” and “the greatest dishonor.” Still others resorted to anonymous online messages that attacked me personally.
I am not easily scared, but I am surprised. After all, this in the Bay Area, an area far more progressive than that for many abortion trainees, who live in states where laws and medical school curriculums are far more restrictive.
And that’s not all. When I apply for residency, I’ll have to find a program that trains its residents in family planning procedures, since one-third of programs still refuse to do so. Later, I’ll have to make sure that I avoid practicing at Catholic hospitals, which currently restrict their providers from offering such services and yet are rapidly taking over the American healthcare system. And even then, if I’m interested in researching pregnancy termination, I won’t be able to use funding from the National Institutes of Health, which continues to ban use of funding for such investigative purposes.
I understand abortion is complicated for some, and it is not my intention to push my reproductive justice agenda on others.
But there is something I wish my communities and my politicians understood: abortion is a normal part of woman’s reproductive lives. It is simply a medical procedure.
So, while the barriers to training may be high – they are far from dissuading.
One in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, making it one of the most highly requested reproductive health services.
Not only this, abortion – when safe and legal – has dramatically improved our world’s health. Research has shown that the legislation of abortion cuts maternal mortality at a rate that far exceeds any other medical intervention – possibly secondary only to the invention of antibiotics.
These are medical facts that seem to escape many of our country’s politicians.
Earlier this year, the House and Senate tried to pass 20-week federal bans on abortion – something President Trump has vowed to pursue. This summer, I was a small part of preliminary research that examined the potential impact of said ban on pregnant patients at Stanford Hospital. Of the terminations that occurred post-20 weeks, many were the result of deeply serious fetal anomalies identified at the patient’s second trimester ultrasound. Had the ban been enforced, none of these women would have a chance to decide how they want their pregnancy to precede.
Pregnancy is a deeply personal experience. But the legislation that the Trump Administration pushes – and that which Judge Brett Kavanaugh could soon defend – strips women of this respect.
Earlier this month – before becoming enshrouded in controversy that makes this all the more devastating – California Sen. Kamala Harris asked Kavanaugh to identify one law that dictates man’s reproductive life. After a pause, he admitted: “I’m not thinking of any right now, Senator.”
I so wish to be part of a generation in which there are none for women, too.
Isabel Beshar is a second-year Stanford Medical student and a 2013 American Rhodes Scholar.
Opinion: Why I’m training to be a doctor who performs abortions