Devika Singh, MD, received her medical degree and a master’s in public health from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2003. She served as president of Medical Students for Choice for the 2002-2003 term. She is currently a fellow in the division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She obtained abortion training as a medical student and resident and is currently pursuing research on the intersection of sexual and reproductive health with infectious diseases.
Probably if I had to pinpoint one particular experience that solidified my commitment to become a provider, it would have been a Medical Students for Choice-sponsored externship to India between my first and second years of medical school. During that experience I had the opportunity to work alongside one of India’s premiere family planning practitioners and to learn abortion care, pre-abortion counseling, post-abortion care and other aspects of reproductive healthcare and ob/gyn.
On one of my first days at this hospital I saw a rush of medical technicians and residents taking a young woman into the operating room. So I followed with the frenzy and enthusiasm of a first-year medical student, and when we got inside the operating room I saw that this was actually a girl, of probably no more than 14 or 15 years old. As the ob/gyn made an incision in her pelvis, a big spurt of blood came up and nearly hit him in the nose. And it was a ruptured uterus—a uterus that had hours earlier been penetrated by some kind of a sharp instrument in the hands of an untrained and unsafe practitioner in the local area. After passing out and then collecting myself, I realized that I never wanted to see that happen again. And it was in that moment that I decided to become an abortion provider.
Voices of Choice represents a tremendous opportunity. As we are here today almost on the verge of perhaps Roe v. Wade being overturned, those lessons and those stories have tremendous impact for those of us who are training to become providers. The physicians that shared their stories are our teachers, our heroes, our mentors, and they are examples of the kind of physicians that we all ought to be, and certainly the kind of physician that I want to be.
The lessons that Voices of Choice taught me were to be committed and courageous, to be fearless in the face of intimidation and to be so committed that social, political, legal repercussions of a particular piece of legislation have no impact on our ability to practice medicine or our dedication to providing that standard of medical care for our women patients. I hope I will be as fearless as those before me.
I think that’s why it’s important for us to be able to hear the stories about physicians who provided abortions pre-Roe v. Wade. It’s important to have the storytelling and the histories repeated so that we can avoid any mistakes in the future. I don’t think that it takes enduring a botched abortion to become an activist. In truth young people are out there. We are your interns. We are your escorts. We are medical students and residents. We are the ones with the signs and slogans and songs at every pro-choice rallying effort. There is hope in young people. We have vision and we have energy. We have the passion, we have the commitment. We’ve heard the stories and we plan to invest our energies and invest our education into providing the standard of medical care for our women patients. We are aware of the realities. We’re aware of the challenges ahead of us. But we’re capable of overcoming them.
I think there’s assuredly a danger of Roe v. Wade being overturned. We’re probably closer to that happening now than we have been since 1973. However, the commitment within medical students and within residents and within providers as a whole is strong. Despite the legal nature and despite the legislative and judicial battles I think the commitment to continue to provide abortions is still out there.
We must revisit the fact that abortion is a medical issue and not a moral one. We’re talking about a procedure that is the most common surgical procedure in this country. And so it behooves medical students to learn about it, to educate themselves, to be committed to learning about abortion. It is our responsibility as medical practitioners and as pro-choice providers to learn about abortion.
Physicians ought to take the responsibility of being activists. They have a unique opportunity in being such effective spokespeople for their patients. If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned say tomorrow, it would take a tremendous, collective uprising on the part of physicians and other healthcare practitioners, medical students and residents across the United States to demand attention to this healthcare crisis and to the repercussions that would follow if abortion were to be illegal. So it is our responsibility to be outspoken, to be advocates for our patients.
The Voices of Choice project is an opportunity for young medical students and residents to hear stories that are passionate and moving and stories from very committed and courageous individuals. It will generate dialogue among individual students, among small collectives, among regional groups to come together and band and try to get out there and make a difference.
All the physicians who provided abortions pre-Roe v. Wade are my heroes.
—Edited transcript from Voices of Choice