Academic claims that disinterest in abortion training at Canada’s medicals schools is the fault of pro-life students

By Jonathon Van Maren

In a nation where abortion is legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy, where two of the major political parties have demanded that none of their politicians vote pro-life and the third has promised loudly not to touch the abortion debate, where the prime minister is spending millions of dollars to fund abortion overseas and his foreign minister refuses to say whether or not they are funding abortions in countries where it is legal—in that nation, says the National Post solemnly, “formal [abortion] training appears to have gone underground”:

When Susan Phillips did her family medicine residency in the ‘70s, back when abortion was quasi-legal and three-doctor panels had to approve a woman’s request to terminate a pregnancy, all residents rotated through the abortion clinic. It was a routine part of training. Today, with no legal restrictions on abortion, formal training appears to have gone underground.

“Underground” is a really weird word to use to describe a pretty simple fact: Less people want to perform abortions, so there has been less training for it in response. Supply and demand. Most people entering the medical field do so in order to help and heal people, not relieve them of their pre-born offspring. This has been true in Canada for a long time—back in 2010 the Toronto Star published a fawning profile of a gay abortionist who joined the field in part because of a shortage of medical professionals willing to perform abortions , and then found abortions agonizing as he realized that each baby he aborted was one less baby available for adoption (not that his enthusiasm for the industry waned, though.) The abortion industry has always suffered from a shortage of medical professionals willing to dispense with enough ethics to join them, and that is because of the nature of the abortion business.

But yet, the Post apparently thinks that less doctors wanting to specialize in abortion translates into abortion training going “underground,” which is deliberate language obviously intended to inflame those abortion activists in Canada who claim that those doctors who find their cause reprehensible are oppressing everyone:

Approximately one in three Canadian women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Only doctors are licensed to provide abortions and family physicians perform the majority of procedures (76 per cent of the 86,824 reported abortions in 2014-15). But the pool of willing providers appears to be shrinking, and new doctors need to be trained to replace them, according to a new study that surveyed family medicine residents in Canada. Eighty per cent of respondents in Canada received less than one hour of formal education on abortion. Similarly, 79 per cent had never observed or assisted in one.

“The majority of family medicine residents do not feel competent to provide abortion services,” the authors report in the journal BMC Medical Education.

For Phillips, a professor in family medicine and public health sciences at Queen’s University in Kingston, the findings are “a bit depressing. We have 66 residents a year in family medicine and a number of them come to me saying, ‘I really want to become (an abortion) provider. Help me find somewhere to do the training.’ And they can’t get anywhere to do it.”

Abortion has virtually disappeared from medical education, for a variety of reasons, Phillips said. More conservative and religious faculty members, a fear of public backlash, and pressure from “a very small but vocal group of students that believes abortion is killing and we shouldn’t be teaching it, we shouldn’t be condoning it and we shouldn’t be doing it.”

“The schools have perhaps capitulated, or seen that it is better to just be a bit quiet about this,” Phillips said.

There it is—the purpose of the article. The idea that a handful of pro-life students, and not simply disinterest in providing abortion, is the reason that there are less budding abortionists is simply ridiculous. There is no fear of public backlash that being openly pro-choice and supporting abortion will result in public stigma in medical schools, and there hasn’t been for a very long time. I spoke at the Physicians for Life Conference last year (I’ll be speaking there again this year in Calgary), and spent some time with the medical students, doctors, nurses-in-training and members of a newly emerging group, Midwives for Life. Nearly all pro-life students in the medical sphere say it is very difficult to be openly pro-life, because the potential for backlash from fellow students and instructors is huge. Students who do discuss their pro-life convictions often face the routine accusations of misogyny or “imposing their religion on others.” As a result, most pro-life students just try to complete their education without compromising their ethics. To suggest that these students actually hold the balance of power in Canada’s medical students is (sadly) a deliberate lie.

But Phillips has an axe to grind, and so with absolutely zero evidence—she does not have any, and the column cites none—she claims that allowing people to hold their own ethical beliefs is the problem:

Phillips also blames a new era of “accommodation — putting accommodation of the individual learner or teacher ahead of publicly held values and standards.”

Abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988 when the Supreme Court struck down what it ruled were overly restrictive laws. Still, barriers remain, including a lack of willing doctors in rural areas and some provinces, and “ongoing stigma toward abortion provision,” write the study authors.

For their study, the researchers developed an anonymous online survey. Eight medical schools outside Quebec and the Maritimes agreed to distribute it. In total, 436 family medicine residents responded. Among the findings: only 21 per cent reported being exposed to one or more abortions during residency and 57 per cent said they received no formal education on abortion.

The authors said medical schools “should focus on normalizing” abortion training, while respecting the right to opt out. “We believe that if you make abortion something that is part of the scope of family medicine training, while respecting peoples’ rights … you remove a lot of the stigma and you make people more likely to get exposed,” said lead author and family physician Dr. Daniel Myran.

“These are essential — not ‘niche’ — competencies. We need to have the current generation of family physicians graduating and being, at a minimum, able to counsel and speak with women on this topic.”

Sixty-one percent of the residents surveyed said they supported more abortion training.

The survey was conducted before the abortion pill Mifegymiso was released last year. But the new drug can only be prescribed up to nine weeks. “And it doesn’t detract from the clear need for an approach to offering abortion training as a core aspect of family medicine,” said Dr. Wendy Norman, a leading researcher in reproductive health at the University of British Columbia.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada currently doesn’t include abortion on its list of 99 priority topics. But, in a statement to the Post, the body responsible for setting training standards said the survey has prompted it to look at “how to enhance abortion education in family medicine education programs in Canada.”

That could include mandatory lectures or training, with exemptions for conscientious objection. The exact approach will be up to individual programs, the college said. The University of Ottawa, whose residents were among those least likely to report exposure to formal abortion training, said it has taken steps as well, creating an hour-long session for all residents that covers how to counsel women, which services are available and how to prescribe the abortion pill.

So the column starts by talking ominously about abortion training going “underground,” as if there were back alley butchers huddled in abandoned warehouses learning the feticide trade from some wizened abortionist who had been driven into the shadows by a handful of pro-life students at the medical school he once taught at, who campaigned so aggressively against abortion that the pro-choice instructors buckled and drove him out of town, or something. Then, blame is laid for the fact that most doctors are not opting to go into the abortion business at the feet of pro-lifers, without a single shred of evidence to back this assertion. Finally, abortion activists advocate making abortion training mandatory for everyone, with an opt-out option for those pro-life students who have apparently been dominating the narrative until now. (The opt-out option is just window-dressing. They’ll advocate getting rid of that as soon as they have enough support for their primary proposals.)

What a stupid abortion advocacy puff piece that utilizes false talking points to attack pro-life medical students, while masquerading as a piece of journalism. I expected better from the Post.


For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.

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