By Sarah McNeilly, second-year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Catherine Stratis, second-year medical student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Carly Tymm, second-year medical student at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Kimberly Graybeal, second-year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Anne Lally, second-year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the rest of the amazing medical student team who helped work on the booklet!
A special thank you to Daniel Baboolal, Alexis Zachem, Vivian Kim, Grace Pipes, Emily Rutland, Maria Schur, Irene Tang, Emma Tucker, and Hana Flaxman for their editorial and fundraising efforts!
This past year, a group of MSFC students from NYC-area medical schools joined forces to form “MSFC NYC” and organized the “Future Docs for Abortion Access Fundraiser” to support patients seeking abortions.
Alongside our fundraising efforts, we produced a zine/booklet, entitled “Accessing Abortion in NYC: A Guide for Medical Students, by Medical Students,” to provide medical students with knowledge on abortion and access to abortion care. We hope it will fill the educational gaps that countless medical students in both NYC and across the country face in the post-Roe era.
As students in New York, a state with one of the strongest legal protections for abortion, we benefit from training in a place where abortion remains legal and at institutions where abortion is still appropriately performed and taught. For that reason, we felt it was that much more important to continue helping our local communities access abortion care and to support pregnant people in states with complete or near-total abortion bans that have begun taking effect. While many may feel helpless in the wake of this decision, it is crucial to recognize that as medical students we can and should advocate for a more equitable and just future.
MSFC believes that abortion and family planning training should be an essential part of all medical school curricula. To access the booklet, click here.
Learn below how the booklet was developed to provide accessible abortion education for medical students regardless of where they live, and how medical students can adapt it for their communities.
How did the idea of creating a booklet start?
- After the Dobbs decision, MSFC chapters across the country began communicating nearly daily to discuss opportunities to collaborate. We knew that as New Yorkers, our abortion rights and access would thankfully remain preserved post-Roe, at least in the immediate future, so our earliest meetings focused on how we could simultaneously lend our support to patients and providers in abortion-restricted areas of the country while remaining involved in our local communities.
- Developing educational resources felt like a natural place to start: it provided us with the opportunity to fill curricular gaps for fellow medical students, while potentially helping patients living in or traveling to NYC navigate abortion care.
- Our guide was ultimately written “by medical students, for medical students” for multiple reasons. First and foremost, we felt it was imperative to ensure that our peers had access to robust, accurate abortion education that covered complex medical, legal, and social issues, in line with MSFC’s mission “to create tomorrow’s abortion providers and pro-choice physicians.” Second, we knew that our institutional affiliations gave us built-in distribution networks that would allow us to reach hundreds of students. Third, we recognized the potential downstream effects of medical education: that knowledgeable medical students would become knowledgeable doctors, who could reach countless patients in the future.
What were some of the challenges you faced in this process and how did you overcome them?
- Given that our primary audience was fellow medical students, we wanted our writing to be the right mix of engaging, accessible, and informative. We felt it was imperative for future clinicians to engage rigorously with medical, legal, social, and ethical information on abortion—the latest data, the highest-quality articles — and to distill the most salient points in a sea of misinformation.
- We overcame these obstacles by conducting an extensive editing process. The booklet underwent multiple rounds of peer editing before receiving feedback from physicians and educators, which ultimately ensured that our booklet was comprehensive, accurate, and engaging. It was a labor of love, but well worth the wait.
How did you approach coalition-building, and how did this coalition and the booklet shape your idea of medical student advocacy?
- Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, several MSFC chapters in NYC came together with the idea that as medical students we can and should advocate for a more equitable and just future. We formed “MSFC NYC”, a local coalition of medical students working together to support abortion education access. Being from different medical schools, we could combine the diverse perspectives, resources, faculty relationships, and physician networks from across our institutions, which augmented our ability to enact change. We knew there was strength in numbers, and were determined to work together towards our goals.
- As part of this collaboration, we had two goals: 1) collectively fundraise for abortion access in the month of August 2022, and 2) develop and broaden abortion education throughout NYC. By spreading the word with our medical schools, friends, and family members, we collectively raised $20,105 to support two abortion access organizations: the National Network of Abortion Funds and The Brigid Alliance, both of which strive to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion care.
- On the education front, despite 25% of pregnancies ending in abortion worldwide, abortion is starkly absent from medical school curricula with half of all medical schools in the US giving no formal training in abortion or only a single lecture. To start to address these education gaps, we developed our abortion education and access booklet. At the same time, we also met with abortion providers around NYC, hosting several talks across our NYC schools on a series of abortion topics including medical-legal partnerships in a post-Roe era and abortion in marginalized populations. We even hosted a tabling event in a park in NYC where we shared our fundraiser with the greater public and spread knowledge on MSFC’s abortion education and advocacy efforts. Most recently, our collaboration has been working with legislatures to draw support for recent bills that allocate funds for OB GYN residents in abortion-restrictive states to receive training on abortion in NYC and develop shield laws for NYC providers sending abortion pills into restricted states.
- With these examples of advocacy through our MSFC NYC teamwork, we hope that our coalition-building efforts inspire other MSFC groups to recognize the power of collective action and create tangible progress within our communities. During this unprecedented time for abortion access in the US, medical students can play an important role as advocates to support our future patients and protect their rights to reproductive health care, including abortion.
How can other medical students use our booklet?
- We wrote this booklet to provide all medical students with reliable, accessible abortion education that honors its complex sociopolitical history. Ultimately, we hope to equip our readers with the understanding that abortion is a foundational, essential part of reproductive healthcare and the tools to support anyone in need—be it their patients, their friends, or themselves. We hope this book can be shared widely by our medical student peers as the fundamental abortion information documented in it can be helpful for all individuals.
- While our guide did focus on accessing abortion in our local New York City community, we believe that it can and should be adapted in other places, informed by local restrictions. All medical students, regardless of where they attend, deserve comprehensive abortion education—and until there is a national curricular standard for abortion education, student-developed tools like ours can help bridge the gap. That is why we are so thrilled to be part of the international MSFC community, which allows us to forge connections with chapters across the US and the world to work collectively around advancing reproductive justice.