University creates task force to focus on abortion access

May 25, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership

A universitywide task force on abortion care access is working to mitigate the impact of a potential statewide abortion ban. A ban has potential impacts across all of the University of Michigan’s missions including health care at Michigan Medicine and University Health Service, medical education and other areas.

The task force is making plans to manage in a post Roe v. Wade environment, by determining how an abortion ban could affect clinical care, educational instruction, student health and more.

A draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that became public earlier this month, indicates the court could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide constitutional right to abortion.

In Michigan, a 1931 law banning abortion care could take effect if the court does overturn Roe v. Wade. The state law that would be resurrected if Roe falls are subject to multiple ongoing lawsuits including one brought by Planned Parenthood of Michigan and another by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The U-M task force is preparing for different scenarios given the various possible outcomes at the state and federal level.

“The specter of a complete ban on abortion care in Michigan is worrisome. I strongly support access to abortion care,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

“We have a female-dominated institution; we care about our own communities as well as those we serve through clinical care and education. I am deeply concerned about how prohibiting abortion would affect U-M’s medical teaching, our research, and our service to communities in need,” the president said.

The current task force, convened by Coleman and Marschall S. Runge, executive vice president for medical affairs, includes leaders from Michigan Medicine’s clinical teams and the U-M Medical School, as well as the Office of General Counsel, Human Resources, University Health Services, students and faculty from psychology, women’s and gender studies, the School of Information, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Library Health Sciences and more.

“The impact of criminalization will be felt across all of University of Michigan’s missions. The most serious consequences will be felt in the university’s clinical care realm, by patients without financial or logistical resources to access out-of-state abortion care – disproportionately people of color, adolescents and those in rural Michigan,” said Dee Fenner, M.D., co-chair of the task force and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Michigan Medicine.

“But the impact will be felt in our classrooms as well, where pregnancy, undesired birth, or complications of unsafe abortion may impact educational attainment,” Fenner said. “Existing racial disparities in health outcomes and in student educational outcomes will likely be exacerbated. Overturning Roe is a health, gender and racial equity issue. We need careful planning to mitigate its most serious potential effects.”

For now, Michigan Medicine remains dedicated to and continues to provide the full spectrum of women’s health services, including abortion care.

“Many of the patients we see are diagnosed with fetal anomalies or experience other complications that make ongoing pregnancy and giving birth dangerous, or they have serious underlying illnesses or other needs that make abortion care in an outpatient facility not possible,” said David Miller, M.D., M.P.H., president of U-M Health. “Our commitment is to be there for those who need the specialized care we can offer.”

Michigan Medicine is often the place of last resort for people seeking abortion care in the state, as well as in neighboring states, said task force co-chair Lisa Harris, M.D., Ph.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “We see patients whose underlying health conditions require hospital-level abortion care, care that other sites are not able to provide, and would be very difficult to access out of state.

“We can also expect to see an increase in the birthrate in the state — some estimates are as high as a 17% increase — and it is not clear that we or others have capacity to manage a dramatic shift like this — all pregnant patients will feel this impact,” Harris said.

Harris said the task force will consider how to mitigate impact to Michigan Medicine’s clinical training programs, which include training around abortion and reproductive care.

“We also need to consider the impact of restrictive abortion on the desire of faculty, staff and students to take or remain in jobs in the state or pursue education here,” Harris said.

The task force will outline guidance for clinical providers and work to establish resources for accessing out-of-state abortions that can be provided to patients and others in the campus community.

“Right now, we have a lot more questions than answers,” said Fenner. “We recognize that abortion is a complex issue that may bring up complex feelings. Regardless of one’s personal feelings about abortion, as professionals providing reproductive health care, this is a time of great uncertainty for us and for our patients. But we are pulling together a large, diverse group of University leaders to make sure we are prepared for whatever may happen.”