Guest Columnist

UI med students oppose 'heartbeat' bill

The House Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The House Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Medical students at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine are in danger of losing vital aspects of their training in obstetrics and gynecology.

The entire OB-GYN residency program for new doctors in Iowa is in jeopardy. This threat to medical training is a direct result of Senate File 2281, a fetal heartbeat bill.

The proposed legislation, which has already won approval in the Iowa Senate, bans all abortions that do not directly threaten the life of the mother after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which normally occurs at six weeks gestation. Regardless of mixed stances on abortion, the very real consequence of SF 2281 is the elimination of Iowa’s only OB-GYN residency programs.

According to the Council for Graduate Medical Education accreditation standards, OB-GYN residency programs must offer family planning training, including contraception and “training in the provision of abortion.” Training in abortion is required since it is one of the most common surgical procedures in OB-GYN. The bill’s significant limitations on abortions would make our residency program fail to meet accreditation.

This damages the training of resident physicians and medical students alike. More important, this bill hurts the health of our patients, the people of Iowa.

The OB-GYN residency program increases the number of OB-GYN doctors in Iowa. Iowa ranks second to last in number of OB-GYN doctors per capita of woman. The residency program at the University of Iowa is one of the highest ranking programs in the U.S. and attracts some of the brightest obstetricians.

Without the residency program it will be increasingly difficult to recruit OB-GYN physicians to come to Iowa to train future generations and provide exceptional care to the women of Iowa.


According to Dr. Kim Leslie, OB-GYN physician and teacher, the bill would affect more than just the OB-GYN residency program. After warnings and probation by the Council for Graduate Medical Education, the OB-GYN program will lose accreditation. This would also cause the loss of fellowship programs (specialized OB-GYN training), putting our neonatology and family medicine training programs at risk.

Other states, like North Dakota, have similar fetal heartbeat legislation. However, North Dakota does not have an OB-GYN residency or neonatology training program. The circumstances are not comparable.

Our Iowan patients deserve our best level of care. Doing so requires an OB-GYN residency and contingent fellowship programs in cases where pregnancies may be high risk or complicated.

We respect the diverse individual beliefs of the moral and ethical considerations of abortion. Our statement is strictly on the practical concerns of the fetal heartbeat bill. We fundamentally care for the people of Iowa as our patients, friends, and family members.

SF 2281 may be intended to preserve life, but the reality is that it directly jeopardizes the lives of pregnant women and neonates alike by eliminating the training that would be quintessential to their medical care.

We strongly advocate against legislation that jeopardizes our training as future physicians and the health of our patients.

• Thomas Pak and Nicole Westergaard are medical students at the University of Iowa, and co-authors of this column. At last count, 82 additional medical students signed in support of this statement.


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