Einstein Students Aim to Support Abortion Access
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) at Einstein leaped into action, working to support the patients, physicians, and medical trainees affected by the heart-breaking decision. They spearheaded the formation of MSFC NYC, a coalition of medical students across New York City who work collectively to advocate for abortion rights and access to care and education.
Together, their group raised more than $20,000 to provide abortion funds during 2022. They also published an educational resource guide for medical students, which recently became available in Einstein’s D. Samuel Gottesman Library.
Knowing their work was far from over, this year, MSFC NYC has continued its focus on expanding abortion access in New York and across the U.S., including for those in states where abortion and other forms of essential reproductive health care are now limited.
“Patients, particularly those who have been marginalized historically by our inequitable healthcare system, are losing their reproductive freedom and healthcare access,” said third-year medical student Sarah McNeilly, who helped found MSFC NYC and also sits on MSFC’s global non-profit board of directors. “Many physicians are being forced to care and advocate for their patients in environments that are hostile to reproductive rights, sometimes endangering themselves and their careers.”
Supporting Funding for Training
At the outset of 2023, MSFC NYC advocated for the creation of a reproductive health training program in the New York state budget. The proposed fund, NY S03060/A03279, would earmark money to increase the state’s capacity to train healthcare workers from out-of-state in abortion care at hospitals here.
In connection with this effort, Sarah authored an op-ed, published in MedPage Today, encouraging state legislators to approve the funding. The item also helped to publicize MSFC NYC’s petition to support the proposed legislation, which was crafted by second-year students Madeline Knauer and Ava Erulker.
“As medical students at Einstein, we benefit from training in a state where abortion remains legal and at an institution where expert clinicians are still teaching us to provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare that includes abortion,” said Sarah. “Yet, we know that this caliber of education is concerningly rare in the United States, especially now that restrictive policies have made it difficult or impossible for medical students and residents to learn how to provide abortion care at their home institutions.
“Trainees everywhere should understand how to support pregnant people to the fullest extent of their clinical abilities,” added Madeline.
The MSFC NYC efforts proved effective: the 2023-2024 New York state budget included $25 million for abortion care, some of which was earmarked to support the fund.
Protecting Providers Who Safeguard Access
However, MSFC NYC’s proudest accomplishment of the year came with the passage of New York’s telemedicine abortion provider shield law.
“The law allows clinicians in our state to send medication abortion pills via telehealth to patients in access-restricted areas without fear of prosecution,” explained Julia Zimmerman, another second-year leader within MSFC NYC.
Added Sarah, “What that means is that abortion providers in New York are able to send abortion pills to patients in states like Texas, Mississippi, and South Dakota, where abortion care is almost impossible to access not only because of near-total bans, but because of widespread clinic closures that have created financial and logistical challenges for countless patients.”
As part of their efforts, the students leveraged their political and legislative advocacy experience to circulate another petition among medical students and residents. They also spoke at a press conference in Albany hosted by State Senator Shelley Mayer and Assembly Member Karines Reyes.
In June 2023, on the one-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade’s overturn, Governor Kathy Hochul signed the legislation (S.1066B/A.1709B) into law.
“We were thrilled to see this important law take effect in New York, especially at a time when roughly half of U.S. states ban or restrict abortion care. These limitations have brought the number of abortions in these states from the tens of thousands per year to virtually zero,” said Sarah.
She added, “Since the New York state law passed this summer, clinicians affiliated with the movement to provide broader access began sending more than 7,000 sets of medication abortion pills into these states every month, filling a critical access gap.”
Supporting Access Means Taking ACTion
Unfortunately, providing adequate abortion care access to patients in states with restrictions requires more than just telemedicine. That’s why the MSFC NYC determined to support the Abortion Coalition for Telemedicine (ACT), the organization that has spearheaded the movement to make reproductive healthcare and abortion care more accessible, particularly where there is a dearth of services.
“More than half of patients requesting telemedicine abortion care from clinicians affiliated cannot afford the cost,” said Vivian Kim, a third- year Einstein student and MSFC member who is co-chairing the fundraising efforts. She and Sarah previously teamed up to pen an op-ed about the need for medical student education in reproductive healthcare.
She added, “That motivated us to dedicate this year’s fundraising campaign to ACT’s worthy cause.”
Toward fulfilling their mission of reproductive health equity, this winter MSFC NYC is holding “The Gift of Abortion Access” fundraiser.
“Every $150 raised through the fundraiser will cover the total cost of abortion care for one patient,” said Vivian. “We’ve been awed by the generosity of donors, whose support has allowed us to quickly surpass our initial fundraising goals of first $5,000, and then $10,000.
“We’re now aiming to raise $15,000. That amount would fund 100 individuals who need abortion assistance.”
For this endeavor, she and Sarah are overseeing fundraising for MSFC chapters statewide, while second-years Madeline, Ava, Julia, and Cien Huang are rallying support here at Einstein.
“We feel it is crucial to recognize that, as medical students, we can and should advocate for a more equitable future for reproductive health,” said Sarah. “New Yorkers have been working tirelessly to advance reproductive justice since long before Roe fell, and we look forward to keeping up the fight in the new year.”
Posted on: Tuesday, December 26, 2023