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Here's what a Roe v. Wade reversal could mean for future OB-GYNs

Abortion rights supporters at a rally in Waikīkī on May 14, 2022.
Catherine Cruz
Abortion rights supporters at a rally in Waikīkī on May 14, 2022.

Hundreds rallied in Waikīkī for abortion rights this weekend for what they vowed would be the first of many such gatherings. One popular rallying cry among protestors was “Abortion Is Health Care.”

Rallies happened across the country following the U.S. Senate's failed attempt to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have codified a right to an abortion.

The Senate voted on the bill after a leaked draft opinion from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito revealed that the court is likely to overturn the 50-year-old protections of abortion rights granted under the 1973 Roe v. Wade case.

If overturned, new doctors entering obstetrics and gynecology may not receive abortion training in many states.

"Not a lot of people are talking about the aspect of abortion training and OB-GYN training," said Hawaiʻi OB-GYN specialist Dr. Reni Soon. "This is going to have a huge impact on our future physicians, on our future OB-GYNs."

A study in the medical journal “Obstetrics and Gynecology” estimates that roughly 45% of OB-GYN residency programs are in states seeking to ban abortion.

Soon says abortion training has other critical applications.

"I don't know if non-medical people realize this, but the procedure to perform an abortion is the exact same procedure we do when someone has a miscarriage or a stillborn in either the first or the second trimester. Exact same procedure," Soon told The Conversation.

"So the skillset to perform an abortion is very similar to what we do when someone is hemorrhaging after giving birth or having a miscarriage. So, when physicians aren't trained to do abortions, they also may not be very good at managing these other complications of pregnancy," Soon said.

Currently, accredited OB-GYN programs are supposed to ensure that residents can receive training in abortion procedures.

Soon says it’s not clear how a program’s accreditation would be affected in a state that bans abortion.

Dr. Marit Pearlman-Shapiro completed her OB-GYN residency in New York before coming to Honolulu. She says there are fantastic training programs in some conservative states, which are set to further restrict abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

"There are programs that are based out of the CDC. There are programs that have done phenomenal research in contraception, but they are based out of states where the access to abortion is very restricted and getting even more so," Pearlman-Shapiro said.

"For me, it was important to go to a place where I knew that my training was going to be protected, where I wouldn't have to stop learning how to do safe procedures in the middle of it because of a legal atmosphere. So coming to Hawaiʻi, knowing that abortion was going to be protected here was a huge part of it," she said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on May 16, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is the energy and climate change reporter. She is also the lead producer of HPR's "This Is Our Hawaiʻi" podcast. Contact her at sharrimanpote@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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