Abortion

“If your neighbor has a completely different view on abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, all of those things, you still are both Americans.”

– Phil McGraw

 

Perhaps no single issue has created a charged atmosphere in the U.S. health care system today quite so much as the ongoing controversy surrounding abortion and reproductive rights. This issue has repeatedly gone to the Supreme Court, presidents and governors frequently campaign in terms of the perceived ‘right thing to do.’ In the context of applying to medical school, your own personal opinion can be a highly dangerous item to introduce into a medical school interview setting without the proper context. White Coat Checklist has framed a consistent approach to topical issues to help medical school applicants frame an issue with both perspective and coherent respect:

  1. Historical Perspective & Implications
  2. Arguments In Favor
  3. Arguments Against
  4. Inclusive Response

The maturity and presence of self-control for a moment of thoughtful introspection will only grow in importance as health care systems and hospitals assume much more direct responsibility and financial risk for actual patient outcomes.

Historical Perspective & Implications

Appropriate factors for consideration include the following:

When does life begin?

How, if at all, is forced miscarriage ethically or otherwise different from spontaneous miscarriage? 

What rights under the law are accorded to a pregnant woman?

How should medical risk to a pregnant woman be treated?

What rights under the law, if any, are accorded to any father of a conceived child, either before or after paternity is established?

How does the law otherwise come into play in regards the process of conception and birth?

How are the answers to these questions different today compared to history?

How do other nations differ from the United States in their treatment of this issue?

The first question regarding life illustrates the complex metaphysical nature of this discussion. Clearly this question has different answers across Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist schools of thought to name just a few. Many different scholars have offered opinions on the issue of abortion over time going back several millennia in terms of historical clinical documentation (Ebers Papyrus, ~1550 BCE), so we should simply acknowledge this underlying complexity as a natural reality, and therefore respect the incredible diversity of opinions across the human race. Moving forward with this specific discussion, society tends to treat deliberate acts (such as pre-contemplated murder) as fundamentally different from circumstances of partial culpability (such as accidental death/manslaughter) or simply a tragic occurrence with no legal liability under the law. It’s important to understand the multi-dimensional implications of such a claim; for example, in alleging that any individual acting against a conceived but pre-born fetus would be guilty of murder, would one logical extension become charging mothers who smoke or drink with assault? If so, when after pregnancy would such a risk cut-off begin? What role, if any, should the state play in such an intimate environment protected by some of the strictest privacy regulations (HIPAA) in existence? It is true that some nations such as Paraguay which recently forced a 10-year-old girl raped by her stepfather to give birth have taken a clearly different position. Paraguay does have a clause permitting abortion ‘when the health of the mother is at risk’ but in this admittedly unusual case such criteria were deemed not to apply. Clearly abortion is a nuanced issue that does not lend itself to any ‘slam-dunk’ answer.

Arguments In Favor (‘Pro Abortion’)

Arguments Against (‘Anti Abortion’)

Inclusive Response Examples

It’s entirely possible to use the evidence above to support several responses in an interview setting. The examples below attempts to illustrate the effective combination of both halves of the available arguments in combination with the historical perspective to offer a thoughtful response which demonstrates both personal reflection and active external engagement regarding the issue at hand.

Appropriate Response: In Favor, With Balanced Discussion of Topic

“Abortion is certainly a sensitive issue in the 21st century United States, and a topic worthy for consideration by medical school candidates. Medical directives outlining recommended clinical abortion practices have been documented over the past 3500 years, and this past year an estimated 42 million abortions were performed worldwide. Despite both a long history and overwhelming evidence that abortion remains a contemporary practice, at the present time less than half of countries worldwide permit abortions without restriction. It is also worth noting that settings where abortion is more legally restricted often coincide with higher percentages of unsafe abortions, maternal death, and other preventable occurrences of modern health care. Even religious organizations which may not explicitly forbid the practice of abortion often express perfectly logical concerns about a culture where freedom of choice may ultimately lead to practices such as designer babies which could result in life itself being regarded as a commodity. I personally believe that to serve humanity in the medical profession I am obligated to fully educate myself about all avenues of reproductive health to be able to educate my future patients about benefits and risks, as with any discipline of medical knowledge. I would personally respect a woman’s personal beliefs regarding the practice of abortion as well as her right to receive one as protected under law, especially in circumstances where the only alternative might risk the health of the mother, as within the recognized bounds of medical practice in the United States.”

Appropriate Response: Personally Opposed, But Sensitive to Patients and Legally Compliant

“Abortion is certainly a sensitive issue in the 21st century United States, and a topic worthy for consideration by medical school candidates. Medical directives outlining recommended clinical abortion practices have been documented over the past 3500 years, and this past year an estimated 42 million abortions were performed worldwide. Despite the fact that more than half of the world’s nations outright prohibit or otherwise severely limit abortion, some first world nations have removed all restrictions on the practice. Even those religious churches and organizations which may not explicitly forbid the practice of abortion often express perfectly logical concerns about a culture where freedom of choice may ultimately lead to practices such as designer babies which could result in life itself being regarded as a commodity. I personally believe that to serve humanity in the medical profession I am obligated to fully educate myself about all avenues of reproductive health to be able to educate my future patients about benefits and risks, as with any discipline of medical knowledge. I would personally respect a woman’s personal beliefs regarding the practice of abortion as well as her right to receive one as protected under law, especially in circumstances where the only alternative might risk the health of the mother, although I might reserve the right to refer such a patient to another provider in order for her procedure to be performed as within the recognized bounds of medical practice in the United States.”

White Coat Checklist’s Member Resources section includes the free AppTrackR medical school dashboard to allow applicants to track their target schools in real-time, question prompts for composing a compelling personal statement, and real-life secondaries essays to learn from the mistakes of prior applicants who have successfully matriculated. Members are also eligible to Contact WCC to ask questions or request 1:1 Advising or Remote Editing Sessions for individual targeted support. 

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