Impact of Utah Abortion Ban: Number of OBG-YNs Studying and Working in Utah Could Drop

With the new restrictions on abortion in Utah, there are concerns about how it will affect OB-GYN training and how many people will ultimately choose to practice in the state.

The University of Utah Health has one of the best OB-GYN residency programs in the West, with Doximity, an online network of medical professionals, ranking it third in reputation.

But Utah’s abortion law will put the university’s OB-GYN residency program “in jeopardy,” said David Turok, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the U. and certified OB-GYN.

“We’ve had an amazing program for a very long time,” Turok said.

According to Turok, medical students wishing to pursue a career in the field want to gain experience with the full range of training and care, and “where there are limits to this, the volume and quality of applicants residents are decreasing.

Attracting and Retaining Residents Affects the Number of Physicians Practicing in the State like 55% of residents stay where they trained, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

OB-GYNs are especially in demand in Utah, which has the fifth highest fertility rate in the country with 64.1 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Compared to other cities in the country, Salt Lake City is at second highest risk of OB-GYN shortageaccording to a Doximity study.

OB-GYN residents must be proficient in abortion procedures, Turok said, because the same techniques and medications are used to treat nonviable pregnancies in the event of a miscarriage.

“People need to learn how to evacuate a uterus safely,” Turok said.

Forty-four percent of OB-GYN residency programs in the United States are in states that will or are likely to enforce strict abortion laws, Bloomberg Law reported.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, a trigger law in Utah went into effect banning abortion with limited exceptions. The law was temporarily suspended ahead of a July 11 hearing after Planned Parenthood of Utah filed a lawsuit challenging it.

If the suspension of the trigger law is lifted, abortion in Utah will only be legal in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, severe fetal abnormalities and cases of rape and incest that were reported to the police.

Texas provides an example of a local abortion restriction deterring medical students from applying to OB-GYN residency programs, Turok said. In September, Texas passed a six-week abortion ban that later discouraged some students from applying for OB-GYN residency programs in the state, according to fortune.

Heather Cummins, a medical student at the University of Utah, said she started medical school with a dream of completing an OB-GYN residency in Utah. Specifically, Cummins said she hopes to work for Planned Parenthood in Utah, but doesn’t know if her goals “will ever come to fruition.”

“It is absolutely concerning to have this trigger law in place that limits a very important scope of practice, in my opinion, for OB-GYNs that allows them to practice all aspects of their training,” Cummins said.

Accredited programs are required by the Accreditation Council for Higher Medical Education to provide regular access to abortion education. Some students are allowed to withdraw for religious or moral objections.

After the Supreme Court issued its decision, the Accreditation Council for Higher Medical Education proposed adjusting the requirement to require programs provide access to training in a jurisdiction without legal restrictions on abortion .

Despite Utah state law, Cummins said the University of Utah OB-GYN residency program is still one of his top choices. She said she is confident that those running the program are committed to ensuring residents are properly trained.

“What’s unfortunate is the fact that they have to take leaps and bounds to make sure (residents are trained),” Cummins said. “It just makes it harder. This puts more pressure on the whole system.

Turok said the department strives to provide residents with “the best and most comprehensive training possible.”

This training can involve simulation and maximize opportunities for residents to care for people with miscarriages and nonviable pregnancies, Turok said.

Courtney Kenyon, a second-year medical student at U., said the new law hasn’t deterred her from wanting to do her residency and eventually practice in Utah.

For her, leaving Utah to practice elsewhere would be tantamount to “abandoning patients” in Utah who need medical professionals ready to defend their cause and their bodily autonomy.

She added that leaving the state would only compound the injustices she thinks patients will face.

“The end goal of a career in medicine for me is not just to perform procedures,” Kenyon said. “It’s really about improving people’s lives and helping them get through some of the most difficult and vulnerable times in their lives, regardless of the political landscape.”

Denise W. Whigham