Included in newly elected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans for the city is a proposal to make abortion training a required component of OB/GYN residency programs in all New York City public hospitals. Although unprecedented, Bloomberg’s plan does allow residents who object to abortion on moral grounds to forego the training. The plan, outlined in Bloomberg’s Blueprint for Public Health along with a proposal requiring emergency rooms at public hospitals to dispense emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault, was part of Bloomberg’s campaign, but received little attention. When asked if Bloomberg intended to follow through on his promise, Bill Cunningham, Bloomberg’s Communications Director, responded, “He said it in the campaign and he meant it. He is for it and he wants to proceed with it.”
Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs New York City public hospitals, has come out in favor of Bloomberg’s plan, as have local and national pro-choice advocates. “Already we’re talking about how this might translate into other cities,” said Kate Michelman, President of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). Advocates also hope that standardizing abortion training in New York City may boost the number of abortion providers nationwide. One out of seven doctors in the U.S. are trained in New York. Currently, of New York City’s 11 public hospitals, only 2 include abortion as part of their standard OB/GYN training.
Pro-choice advocates fear that the number of abortion providers nationwide, already small, may be in danger of further dwindling. According to Planned Parenthood, a whopping 84 percent of all U.S. counties do not have abortion providers, and nearly one in four women have to travel more than 50 miles to obtain abortion services. Abortion providers are also aging. Most providers are over 50 years old, and few OB-GYN residents are learning the procedure. In 1997, only 12 percent of OB-GYN programs taught first-trimester abortions in their standard curricula.