The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) instituted a policy earlier this month requiring all teaching hospitals to provide abortion training to their residents.
Under the new guidelines, hospitals must teach abortion techniques to all of its obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) residents, except those who are morally or ethically opposed to the procedure.
Institutions who do not perform or support abortions are required to send their OB-GYN residents to other hospitals to be trained.
But the policy will have little effect on the joint OB-GYN residency program run by two of Harvard's teaching hospitals, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's, which already offers optional abortion training to their 36 residents.
Residents are given the option of training in dilation and evacuation, a procedure used to treat women who have experienced fetal death, miscarriage or who are having abortions.
Beth lsrael, the only other Harvard teaching hospital with an OB-GYN residency program, declined to comment.
Keren R. McGinity, special assistant of public affairs at Harvard Medical School, says the school will not be directly affected by this policy.
"There is no cross-over between residency programs and undergraduate medical education," she says. "We don't track all of the resident programs at all the different hospitals because the hospitals control those and have complete domain about everything having to do with the residency programs."
John C. Gienapp, executive director of the ACGME, says the policy is not actually new but just clarifies previous regulations which did not specifically mention abortion training.
"We don't believe it was a change in policy requirements," he says. "Now the requirements are explicit."
The current policy now reads, "Experience with induced abortion must be part of residency training, except for residents with moral or religious objections. This education can be provided outside the institution. Experience with management of complications of abortion must be provided to all residents..."
Gienapp says the policy was reworded in response to a lawsuit against the ACGME by a hospital claiming the regulations were too vague. The steady drop in the number of abortions performed in hospitals, despite continued demand for the procedure, also led to the change, he says.
According to a report compiled by the Alan Guttmacher lnstitute, a non-profit group which does research on reproductive issues, the number of abortion providers decreased by 8 percent between 1988 and 1992. And of the abortions that do occur, 93 percent of them take place in clinics or doctor's offices, not hospitals.
"I think that hospitals are afraid to perform abortions because it is such a controversial issue," says Jennifer R. Davis '97, Co-chair of Harvard-Radcliffe Students for Choice.
Gienapp says the policy has nothing to do with the controversy now surrounding President Clinton's nominee for surgeon general Dr. Henry W. Foster, who has acknowledged performing several abortions during his 30-year career as an OB-GYN.
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