Einstein Students Advocate for Abortion Access and Protection

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Einstein students in its chapter of Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) knew that the decision would harm patients, physicians, and medical trainees alike. “Patients, particularly those from marginalized groups, will suffer threats to their reproductive autonomy and healthcare access,” said Sarah McNeilly, a second-year M.D. student and a leader of the Einstein MSFC. She added, “Many physicians will be forced to deliver excellent care and advocate for their patients’ well-being in environments that are hostile to reproductive rights.”

Also of concern to the students was the threat posed to education, for them but especially for those students at medical schools in states banning abortion. With a new restriction on already limited opportunities to develop the essential understanding and skills required for reproductive care, many in the Einstein MSFC felt compelled to mobilize to support abortion access and protection.

United by their organization’s passion for reproductive justice, Einstein’s MSFC members channeled their outrage and heartbreak about the Dobbs decision into action, leading the development of MSFC NYC, a citywide coalition of medical students working to ensure that people in need of an abortion or related care can access those services where it remains legal and available. Other member medical schools include Columbia, Cornell Weill, Mount Sinai, Hackensack Meridian, NYU, and SUNY Downstate.

“As students in New York, a state with one of the strongest legal protections for abortion, we benefit from training in a place where abortion remains legal and at an institution where abortion is still appropriately performed and taught. For that reason, we felt it was that much more important to continue helping our local communities access abortion care, and to support pregnant people in states with complete or near-total abortion bans that have begun taking effect,” said Sarah, who also is among leadership of MSFC NYC. “While many may feel helpless in the wake of this decision, it is crucial to recognize that as medical students we can and should advocate for a more equitable and just future.”

Fundraising for Abortion Access

As a first step, MSFC NYC is holding a citywide Future Docs for Abortion Access Fundraiser, with a goal of raising $15,000 throughout August. Proceeds will support the National Network of Abortion Funds and the Brigid Alliance, two organizations helping patients across the country — and especially those in abortion-restricted states — access abortion. “With every donation, we are helping to provide immediate, tangible support to the patients who need it most — covering expenses including the cost of the procedure, travel, lodging, childcare, and other services,” said Sarah.

Sarah McNeilly and Vivian Kim teamed up to write an op-ed that published in MedPage Today.
Sarah McNeilly and Vivian Kim teamed up to write an op-ed that published in MedPage Today.

Support from the Einstein community powered the first three weeks of the citywide fundraiser, which is taking place throughout August. “It’s been empowering to see Einstein’s students, faculty, and staff mobilize to support our fundraising campaign,” said Anne Lally, a fellow second-year student helping lead both MSFC groups. “People have been lending whatever support they can, whether it’s their money, time, energy — and or even their home-made baked goods.”

To help their fundraiser gain momentum — and their newfound community to build rapport — MSFC NYC is organizing various events throughout the month of August, including a seminar on abortion and marginalized populations and a panel discussion on medical-legal partnerships post-Roe. Their capstone event, the Future Docs for Abortion Access rally, will take place on Sunday, August 28, at 3 p.m., in Union Square. Check our online calendar for further details.

“By organizing an activist demonstration geared toward medical students, we hope to inspire each other to continue showing up as reproductive justice advocates in the months and years to come,” said Anne. Though medical students will be leading the rally, Sarah and Anne noted that anyone in the Einstein community or concerned about abortion access for those who need it, is welcome to attend.

Educating Their Peers

In keeping with MSFC’s founding mission of educating medical students and trainees about all aspects of reproductive healthcare, including abortion, Einstein students are focused on enhancing abortion education for their peers.

In parallel to their fundraiser, students from MSFC NYC have developed a resource booklet that aims to provide medical students with comprehensive, accessible, and engaging information about abortion — ranging from what the procedure is to how to access an abortion in New York.

Sarah, Anne, and fellow second-year M.D. students Kim Graybeal and Vivian Kim collaborated with students and physicians from across New York City to develop the resource, titled “Accessing Abortion in NYC: A Guide.”It is scheduled to publish online by the end of August.

“We hope its release will augment both the abortion-related knowledge and skills we develop during Einstein’s pre-clinical classes, clerkship rotations, and fourth-year electives, and the educational enrichment events that Einstein’s MSFC holds annually,” said Vivian.

Anne added, “This spring, in partnership with Einstein’s Ob-Gyn Interest Group, our MSFC held an incredible Manual Vacuum Aspiration workshop where residents and fellows from Montefiore’s obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health department taught us how to perform this approach to abortion using papaya models. We are so excited to build on that success this fall, with more events like our No-Snip Vasectomy workshop.”

While many may feel helpless in the wake of this decision, it is crucial to recognize that as medical students we can and should advocate for a more equitable and just future.

Sarah McNeilly, second-year medical student

“Students can also volunteer through our longstanding Bronx Abortion Clinic escorting program, which trains dozens of students each year to protect patients against harassment from protesters,” she said.

Advocating at the National Level

In addition to effecting change locally, Einstein students have begun advocating for progress nationally.  For their part, Sarah and Vivian turned to independent research and writing, recently publishing an op-ed in MedPage Today calling for standardized abortion education across U.S. medical schools.

“When we began writing, Sarah and I quickly realized two things: that we wanted to do whatever we could to protect abortion access post-Roe, and that we had an incredibly supportive community of students, clinicians, and administrators behind us,” said Vivian. “Within weeks, we interviewed more than 20 physicians and physicians-in-training to understand the role that advocacy has played in their careers, and to determine where we should focus our own. We are so grateful for the ways everyone has taken it upon themselves to advocate for reproductive healthcare.”

Sarah agreed, noting, “We hope that our piece will help fuel systemic action to improve abortion education for all U.S. medical students — safeguarding the future of abortion provision and public health.”