In between exams, one medical student in Tennessee took the time to tell MSFC about the chapter at his school, his stance on Tennessee’s proposed Amendment 1, and his plans for his future career.
What drew you to Medical Students for Choice?
I first saw the words “Medical Students for Choice” on the National Abortion Federation’s website at the beginning of my first semester of medical school last year. How I got to that point – searching for pro-choice resources I could use as a medical student – requires a little more background. My father was an Ob/Gyn; he was kind and compassionate, strong and brave. He was an abortion provider. Until his death in 2012, he was the medical director of a women’s health clinic that offered the full range of family planning services. He provided an inspiring and enlightening environment in which to grow up and acted as a role model by standing for his principles and by providing essential services for women in the face of stressful legislation, regulations, and harassment. During my undergraduate studies in philosophy and ethics, I explored my own values at length and this, along with my experiences with my dad, has ultimately contributed to where I am today. Little did I know that these experiences would lead me to find MSFC, and that those four letters would become a regular part of my vocabulary and such a huge part of my life.
What is the atmosphere around reproductive rights like at your medical school, East Tennessee State University?
It really depends where you look. There are certainly students and other members of the school that are not enthused about our presence. There are some that have not expressed an opinion but prefer not to be involved. On the other hand, there are faculty members that have expressed explicit approval and excitement, and there is definitely a student interest. This is our chapter’s second year, and we’ve grown from three founding students to almost 60 members total. Considering that our average class size is 72, I am very proud of the progress our chapter has made. Even with a difference in opinion, there has generally been a very respectful and peaceful response within the school. Is the breakdown and attitude of our school’s population representative of the region of East Tennessee? Definitely not, but we will keep working toward normalizing access to abortion and family planning as regular and responsible parts of women’s health care.
What do you hope to accomplish with your chapter this year?
I think our chapter has been so successful because the of the diversity of our members’ experiences and ideas that moves our chapter forward, and because of our members’ desire to gain exposure and education in a subject that is so important, yet absent from our regular curriculum. So far this semester we have had a values clarification workshop, messaging training for the upcoming “Amendment 1” legislation for Tennessee, and have planned a meeting with a local abortion provider and lawyer. We are also excited to be sending 17 members to the Conference on Family Planning in November. As we progress to the spring semester, I am hoping we will have some more great meetings and prepare future Student Leaders to take on the chapter next year.
Why are you speaking out about Amendment 1?
Amendment 1 (TN SJR 127) is a proposed amendment to the Constitution of Tennessee that states:
“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
This is incredibly harmful legislation that has the potential for serious consequences that will negatively affect the health and lives of Tennessee women. Not only is this an invasion of the patient-physician relationship, but it also has the capacity to ease the passage of more restrictive, harmful, and medically non-indicated legislation.
What do you think is the role of medical professionals in advocating for abortion access?
It is important to understand that making abortion illegal or inaccessible does not stop abortions from happening; it does, however, decrease the number happening in already highly regulated, clean facilities by competent providers. Preserving access to abortion is essential to ensuring that basic healthcare needs of women are met in a responsible and safe way that respects women and their decisions without outside intervention. It is absolutely the medical community’s responsibility to advocate for access to services that are simply regular parts of responsible, compassionate, and comprehensive reproductive healthcare.
What are your hopes for your future medical career?
I am planning to pursue a career in obstetrics and gynecology and provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare somewhere in the Southeast. Ideally, I would love to go to a residency outside of the South that has a Ryan program, continue to a fellowship in family planning, and make my way back home. What that means exactly, I am not entirely sure; a lot depends on laws, restrictions, and politics at the time. It may be that I can live close to where I work, or I may have to regularly travel to provide the care that is needed. Either way, I am dedicated to serving where I can help. If feasible wherever I end up, I would really like to work with medical students and residents to help educate future providers. Without trained providers, there is no choice.
The views, positions, and opinions expressed by the author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, positions, or opinions of ETSU and Quillen College of Medicine or any employee thereof.