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Medical students rally to support reproductive rights

From left, Hope Koene, Jennifer Marino and Micaela Tobin

UMass Chan Medical School students came together Thursday, Oct. 6, to advocate with medical students nationwide for safe, legal, accessible abortion; gender-affirming care; comprehensive access to sex education and contraception; affordable health insurance and other reproductive justice issues.

The rally, which was held on the campus green at UMass Chan in Worcester, was part of the National Day of Student Action for Reproductive Justice, spearheaded by the national Graduate Student Action Network.

Second-year T.H. Chan School of Medicine students Jennifer Marino, Micaela Tobin and Hope Koene, co-leaders of UMass Chan student organization, Medical Students for Choice, organized the local event.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning nearly 50 years of constitutionally protected abortion under Roe v. Wade, sparked “a lot of passion among graduate students around the country,” Marino said. “It was a moment where it called to attention the fact that graduate students have power, and we have a voice. We also provide labor in our own ways.”

Tobin said that prior to the court’s ruling, Medical Students for Choice focused primarily on educating future physicians to provide reproductive services. Each semester, the group leads a “papaya workshop,” in which abortion techniques are taught using a papaya as a model. “That’s a crowd favorite,” said Tobin. “But with recent events, we’ve also become more focused on how we can protect reproductive rights and on making sure we’re providing comprehensive education.”

Organizers said that UMass Chan could make a difference by speaking out against national proposed legislation to limit all abortion to 15 weeks’ pregnancy, as well as locally by supporting regulations on so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which they say are coercive and mislead pregnant people about their medical options.

“I feel that coming from a state like Massachusetts, where we are able to more openly talk about abortion, it is also one of our duties to other students in states that aren’t able to mobilize to speak out against these things,” said Koene.

The co-leaders also called for greater access to reproductive health training for all UMass Chan students, including those in the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing, and building more learning opportunities into the curriculum.

They encouraged students, faculty and staff to sign an online petition for bodily autonomy, which at the close of the rally had 92 signatures.

At the rally, speakers from UMass Chan as well as invited guests addressed the gathering.

Nat Cooney, a volunteer member of the Jane Fund of Central Massachusetts, which is dedicated to funding and supporting abortion access, said, “There is no abortion access without educated, compassionate medical providers. We need to increase the number of trained professionals that are available for communities that are already faced with a lack of access to care in our region.”

“I feel extremely fortunate to practice medicine in a state that honors reproductive choice in the way that Massachusetts does because when my patients make decisions about their pregnancies… I am able to support them. But this is not the lived reality for many of the people across this nation,” said Tara Kumaraswami, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology and director of the obstetrics & gynecology residency program.

She said, “I stand in support of our students today who are working to ensure that abortion and reproductive health care is taught in medical, nursing and graduate schools so that you may go forth and educate your patients. It is imperative that we teach that abortion is health care.”