Some physicians, residents refuse to practice, train in states with abortion bans

Some practicing physicians — as well as residents and people considering a career in medicine — say they will not work or train in states that have restricted or banned abortion services. 

"Doctors are showing — through their words and actions — that they are reluctant to practice in places where making the best decision for a patient could result in huge fines or even a prison sentence," according to a May 23 NPR report. "When clinics that provide abortions close their doors, all the other services offered there also shut down, including regular exams, breast cancer screenings and contraception."

This could mean there will be a shortage of physicians to provide preventive gynecological care to women in these states — including routine Pap smears and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases.

Further, NPR said, "care for pregnant women specifically is at risk, as hospitals in rural areas close maternity wards because they can't find enough professionals to staff them — a problem that predated the abortion ruling but has only gotten worse since."

Research published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in February, which surveyed more than 2,000 current physicians and medical students, revealed what NBC called an "impending medical brain drain" in a May 18 report.

Of those surveyed, 76 percent said they "would not even apply to work or train in states with abortion restrictions." 

As of May 23, a report in The New York Times said 14 states have abortion bans in place and about half of states have announced intentions to "enact bans on abortion or gestational limits on the procedure." 

This means qualified physicians and those looking to pursue medical careers would not even consider practicing in more than half of the states in the country.

The Association of American Medical Colleges reported a decline in medical students applying for residencies in 2023 in states with abortion bans, compared with applications submitted in states without abortion restrictions. Overall applications for OB-GYN residencies were down in 2023 from 2022, but the decline in the number of applications submitted to states with abortion bans was double that in states without restrictions — 10.5 percent versus 5.3 percent.

Results of a smaller survey, which were presented at an annual meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in May, showed "more than three-quarters, 76.9 percent, said that access to abortion care would influence where they would pursue their residency," according to a May 18 NBC report

The survey of 494 medical students who said they are planning to pursue careers in obstetrics, gynecology, surgery and internal medicine found that more than half of those surveyed, 57.9 percent, said they "were unlikely or very unlikely to apply to a single residency program in a state with abortion restrictions."

This survey captured the opinions of third- and fourth-year medical students in 32 states from August to June 2022, just after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. This landmark 1973 case granted the right to abortion access throughout the country for almost 50 years.

Jerome Adams, MD, former surgeon general during the Trump presidency, tweeted on April 13 about his concern about how abortion restriction laws could "make pregnancy less safe for everyone, and increase infant and maternal mortality."

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