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When pro-choice is a no-choice (Scripps Howard News Service) August 14, 2002

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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Like most Americans, I am weary of the politics of abortion. But the California legislature will not leave it alone. If, as in other areas, California is on the leading edge of legislation that may sweep the country, we cannot ignore Assembly Bill 2194, mandating that California medical schools provide students with training in abortion. It has passed the Assembly, is on its way through the Senate, and should be on the governor’s desk for signature soon.

It has been a banner summer for the California Assembly. Well into the new fiscal year, the Legislature is still unable to enact a state budget, even though the controller is docking the legislators’ pay until they do so. In the meantime, the Assembly managed to pass important legislation such as the bill regulating the weight of children’s backpacks, and now is busy with this intrusion into the medical school curriculum that, in turn, will exacerbate the culture wars over abortion. Those who argue that we would be better off if state legislatures did not meet full-time would find ample evidence for their cause in Sacramento this summer.

The genesis of the bill is a concern that there may be a shortage of doctors to provide abortions. As some have noted, no one in California is really aware of a problem yet, with some 300,000 abortions per year performed in recent years. In most occupations, a potential labor shortage might be addressed with education or incentives for new people to enter the field. Nut no, those carrying the “agenda” here seek to legislate that the next generation of obstetricians and gynecologists have training in abortions. Those who wish to opt out for religious or ethical reasons must file a letter setting forth their views.

Is there no limit to regulation? Whether one is for or against abortion, surely even pro-choice advocates could respect the right of medical schools and their students to make their own choice about abortion? Isn’t it possible that students who choose to care for expectant mothers and deliver their babies as a career might not choose to abort babies, or even take a course to learn those techniques? Should we not honor that “choice” also, whether or not it is based on well-formed religious or ethical grounds?

But there is an even larger issue here, the politics of education itself. We may have significant problems in K-12 education, but American higher education is widely acknowledged as the best in the world. People vote with their feet, coming by the thousands from nations all over the world to attend our universities. It is widely acknowledged that one of the great strengths of American higher education is its diversity, its pluralism. With some 3,500 colleges and universities, students can choose from dozens of institutional types, from research to religious, from broad to specialized.

In recent years, however, systems of accreditation, originally designed to insure academic quality, have become political battlegrounds. A few years ago, there was an effort to impose diversity requirements through accrediting associations. Only when a few college presidents, and the U.S. Department of Education, took the matter head-on did accrediting agencies acknowledge that diversity policies were really choices for individual schools, not matters to be imposed by accrediting agencies. Having all institutions follow the same approach to diversity promotes uniformity, not diversity.

In this case, the California legislature is carrying out its pro-abortion policy by mandating that all California medical schools follow the guidelines fo a particular accrediting agency, The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The question of what curriculum to follow, and which accreditations to seek, ahs always been the province of individual colleges and universities, not government. Do we really want to trust the politicians who have messed with the K-12 curriculum every few years to decide what courses future doctors should take? I’ll take the judgment of medical deans.

Those who would use academic accreditation, and now legislation, to inject their politics into the university curriculum are starting American higher education down a dangerous and slippery slope. When Bob Dole was in the U.S. Senate, he was sometimes referred to a s”Senator Gridlock” because of his opposition to various bills. When asked about it, he responded that there were a lot of bad ideas in Washington and that someone had better stop them. There are some bad ideas in Sacramento this summer and someone needs to stop them.

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