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How the overturn of Roe v. Wade is impacting medical students entering gynecology

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, medical students across the country learned whether they had won a spot in a residency program that will prepare them to become full-fledged doctors. Some are going into obstetrics and gynecology, and this year's placements are the first since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to access abortion. Zoe Sullivan has more on what that means for them.

ZOE SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Brittany Ikwuagwu is finishing up her final year of medical school in Texas. She's a native Texan who cares deeply for her home state.

BRITTANY IKWUAGWU: I want to take care of Texas women, right? This is my community.

SULLIVAN: Brittany knew early on she wanted to be an OB-GYN.

IKWUAGWU: The reason why - that I got really, like, involved and passionate is because this is around the time when the news was coming out, you know, that Texas had the highest maternal mortality rate of the developed world.

SULLIVAN: It's one of the highest mortality rates, particularly for Black women like Brittany. The challenge that she and other prospective OBs face is the landscape for their work has changed dramatically because of abortion restrictions. Twenty-one states now either ban abortion or have bans pending. In Texas, for example, doctors face life in prison and a fine of a hundred thousand dollars for performing an illegal abortion. But in order to be board-certified as an OB-GYN, doctors need abortion training.

ELLEN HARTENBACH: The term abortion historically in medicine is any time a pregnancy ended.

SULLIVAN: That's Dr. Ellen Hartenbach, who chairs the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of Wisconsin and practices at UW Health.

HARTENBACH: It would be either a spontaneous abortion, which would be a miscarriage, or it would be an induced abortion.

SULLIVAN: Someone having a miscarriage may need the same procedure as someone having an abortion to clear tissue from the uterus to prevent infection. That's just one example of why doctors need these skills. But the legal uncertainty in Wisconsin around abortion has prompted the hospital to send its residents to Illinois to get their training.

HARTENBACH: It's a burden. It's an economic burden because they have to live in Illinois. They have to get Illinois licenses. It's also disruptive to the residents, who often have families.

SULLIVAN: Landing a spot in a residency program is tremendously competitive. UW Health ordinarily receives 700 applications for seven OB-GYN spots.

HARTENBACH: We did see a small decline this year. I don't know if that's on the way to being a larger decline. I do know that the residents that are interviewing with us certainly had a lot of questions.

SULLIVAN: Brittany put California as her top choice for her residency in part because the state protects abortion access unlike her home state of Texas.

IKWUAGWU: It's home. And I would love to be able to stay and take care of the pregnant people and other women here that has kind of, like, invested in me.

SULLIVAN: In the end, Brittany matched with Louisiana State University Hospital in New Orleans.

IKWUAGWU: I'm moving to New Orleans.

(CHEERING)

SULLIVAN: It's a state with an even worse maternal mortality rate than Texas.

IKWUAGWU: It's like - what does that saying go? Out the pan, into the fire - that type of vibe, going from, like, Texas to Louisiana.

SULLIVAN: She's still excited to be going to a place where she's needed. For NPR News, I'm Zoe Sullivan in Madison, Wisc.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFFREY SILVERSTEIN'S "TRIP SITTER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Zoe Sullivan