Starting on October 13th, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) will offer a six-week class called “Abortion: Quality Care and Public Health Implications” through the online course platform Coursera. Operating primarily in a public health framework, the course will address patient-centered abortion care both during and after the first trimester before proceeding to examine obstacles to safe abortions and abortion access worldwide.
Given the current proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs), this course would hardly be noteworthy 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. While the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 30 percent of American women will have an abortion by the age of 45, a 2005 review of U.S. medical school curricula on abortion revealed that less than a third of schools include a single lecture focused on abortion during the clinical years. A 2009 survey also found that a full third of North American medical schools do not include abortion education in preclinical courses either.
And the discipline of public health, as a committee from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists observes, has traditionally focused on “reducing the frequency of unintended pregnancy” in their approach to abortion, a stance that matches American sex education’s focus on abstinence over safe sex practices in both its idealism and its implicit moralism. Public health’s approach to abortion has shifted over the years with many prominent figures in the discipline now emphasizing legal access to safe abortions worldwide, but public health curricula at many U.S. schools still tend to relegate abortion to a single unit or lecture within a course.
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