Media Hype! “Internet’s First Abortion Class”

The Daily Beast, Think Progress, Medical Daily celebrate abortion.

It’s a liberal media specialty: advertising abortion like it’s a good thing.

Starting next week, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) will offer a class on “Abortion: Quality Care and Public Health Implications” through Coursera, an online course platform. Targeting clinicians, health care workers, and students, the course will “contextualize abortion care within a public health framework from both clinical and social perspectives.” Media heralded the news, calling the class “exactly what abortion education needs to move forward” and looking forward to “breaking down the barriers women looking for abortions face.”

Breaking the news, Daily Beast contributor Samantha Allen explained why “The Internet’s First Abortion Class” “matters more now than ever.”

She linked to the program description, which explained her excitement (bolding added for emphasis):

Each week’s lectures will incorporate the stories of women who seek abortion in order to better portray abortion significance and rationale.  Other topics will include a brief history of abortion, the clinical aspects of medication and procedural abortions in and after the first trimester, an overview of patient-centered abortion-care, the basics of abortion counseling, the professional obligations of health care practitioners to ensure that women have access to safe abortion care, and the maze of restrictions that make safe abortion care inaccessible to many women. 

This course would hardly be noteworthy,” Allen explained, “if not for the fact that abortion education in U.S. medical schools and public health programs in the United States is still in lackluster shape.”

As an example, Allen bemoaned that while an estimated “30 percent of American women will have an abortion by the age of 45,” “less than a third of schools include a single lecture focused on abortion during the clinical years.”   

While the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education mandates “that ‘access to experience with induced abortion must be part of residency education’” in obstetrics and gynecology, she continued, there are still “loopholes” like “residents with ‘religious or moral objections’ are permitted to opt out.”

As associate professor in Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF, Jody Steinauer will teach the course. Steinauer boasts “family planning” accomplishments including founding Medical Students for Choice and serving as director of Innovating Education in Reproductive Health.

In an interview with Allen, Steinauer noted “two reasons” for pushback in “abortion education:”

  • The “stigma about abortion prevents abortion from being discussed.”

  • Abortion “sometimes makes people feel emotional” such that it “probably feels safer for professors and education leaders to not talk about it.”

But Steinauer wasn’t worried about criticism, with the support of UCSF behind her. The University is “100 percent supportive of the course and feels that it’s critical learning content for all medical students and nursing students,” she told Allen.

Estimating 3,000 students enrolled, Steinauer said, “I think that if we can inspire even a small portion of the people who take the course to take steps in their communities to increase access to safe abortion and decrease stigma about abortion, then we have been totally successful.”

She hopes to “inspire” with questions like “How can we, as a community that cares about women, help to decrease morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions? How can we make abortions safer? How can we make them more accessible?”

As for other course material, she will ask students to “really reflect on your feelings about abortion... and then, take time to think about how you can best serve your community,” said Steinauer.  Students will be instructed to “write about their feelings about abortion and how they should manage them.”

Allen likened knowledge of performing abortions to a knowledge of treating urinary tract infections:

“At the root of these barriers to access is a U.S. educational system that ignores the frequency of abortion, producing health care providers who have no formal training in abortion care. By frequency alone, this would be about as unacceptable as a general practitioner not being able to treat a urinary tract infection, a condition that affects one in five women.”

“A stigmatized subject like abortion,” noted Allen, “stand[s] to benefit from an online format” with “flexibility, freedom, and time that teaching a controversial but important subject like abortion requires.”

Her gushing continued: “An extended and digitally-mediated conversation about abortion may be able to push past the institutional hesitation that too often lead to its total omission from classroom syllabi.”

She concluded, “The Internet could be exactly what abortion education needs to move forward in the 21st century.”

Think Progress’ Tara Culp-Ressler noted how “More Than 3,000 People Have Signed Up For The First Online Abortion Class.” Coining a term from Rep. Steve King, R-IA, Culp-Ressler wrote, “Only time will tell whether opponents of the medical procedure will also come out against robot skype abortion classes.”

Medical Daily’s headline read, “UCSF Online Abortion Course Aims To Teach What Most OB-GYN Schools Aren't — Quality Care And Public Health Implications.” In the piece, writer Anthony Rivas stressed how “Religious and moral stigma produces these gaps between abortion education and reality.”

He congratulated Steinauer by hoping, “she might be able to start breaking down the barriers women looking for abortions face in the U.S. and the rest of the world.”

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.