Another skirmish has broadened the battle over abortion. In February, the Chicago-based Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, or ACGME, which sets standards for residency programs nationwide, announced that obstetrics and gynecology departments at hospitals and other teaching institutions must train their students to perform abortions. (Until now, teaching the procedure was not required.) Antiabortion forces claim the council is foisting abortion upon doctors; pro-choice groups say the council is only ensuring that women have access to the best health care possible.
"I would have preferred not to get involved in this issue," says Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who introduced a bill to nullify the ACGME's abortion rule. "We rely heavily on the ACGME for making sure that doctors educated in the United States are qualified. Unfortunately, in February of this year, the ACGME chose to expand the agenda of medical-school accreditation far beyond simply establishing minimum standards for the profession and have launched into the area of taking sides in an extremely divisive moral and social issue."
If residency programs do not comply with the ACGME directive, which takes effect in 1996, they will lose their accreditation. Without accreditation, medical schools are ineligible to receive full reimbursement from Medicare and students cannot defer certain loans. States require medical doctors to earn degrees from ACGME-accredited programs.
Under Hoekstra's plan, the Medical Training Nondiscrimination Act of 1995, medical schools that lose accreditation because they refuse to teach abortion procedures would continue to receive federal aid, and graduates of such programs would remain eligible for state licensing. Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
In late July, the House Appropriations Committee approved several antiabortion amendments to a $60 billion bill allocating funds for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services. The amendments prohibit the federal government from penalizing residency programs that refuse to teach abortion procedures, restrict federal embryo research and eliminate the government's family-planning program, which this year provided $193 million to public and private groups such as Planned Parenthood.
Like other bills in Congress, including an abortion ban at overseas military bases and a prohibition against a procedure used to end late-term pregnancies, Hoekstra's faces an uncertain future. Many legislators, including some Republicans, would like to avoid the abortion issue altogether, and prochoice advocates would be only too happy for them to remain aloof. …