Arizona ‘Medical Students for Life’ Chapter Threatens Patient Health: ‘This Contradicts What We Are Taught in Our Curriculum,’ Say Students

What’s happening at Midwestern University illustrates the anti-abortion movement’s larger strategy: disseminate misinformation to confuse, deter and scare people out of getting abortions.

There’s misinformation afoot at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine.

I spent four days on campus earlier this month talking to medical students—and what I heard was harrowing. For the first time in school history, the administration overruled a student government vote in approving or rejecting an application for a new club to be allowed on campus. The vote in question? Whether or not to allow a chapter of the controversial Medical Students for Life (MSFL) to form on campus.

Student government’s reasoning for the vote had nothing to do with a disagreement about a moral stance on abortion. Rather, as a medical school educating future doctors, they felt it was dangerous to establish an organization notorious for disseminating medical misinformation. Examples of misinformation put forth by Students for Life includes: falsely claiming birth control pills are abortifacients, promoting abortion pill reversal (which is neither medically sound nor FDA-approved), claiming IVF is unethical and dangerous, and championing abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education that has not been shown to be effective

Put simply by Midwestern University’s Students for Choice members in a letter responding to the administration’s decision: “This contradicts what we are taught in our curriculum and … could directly put patients in our community at risk as students are on rotations and enter residency.”

Despite student government’s vote, MSFL is now fully operational on Midwestern University’s medical campus. 

As a medical student, I feel betrayed by the administration’s decision. They’ve allowed a group to form under a national organization that will disseminate misinformation to patients.

Sarah, medical student

What’s happening at Midwestern University illustrates the anti-abortion movement’s larger strategy: disseminate misinformation to confuse, deter and scare pregnant people out of getting abortions. They have classically achieved this by operating over 2,500 anti-abortion centers (AACs) nationwide. (Commonly called crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, the Associated Press has recently recommended this change in terminology to better reflect what these centers do.)

And they often use government funding to achieve these goals—half a billion dollars having been funneled into AACs over the last ten years, much of it taxpayer dollars diverted from social safety net programs … all the while spreading medical misinformation and purposely targeting marginalized communities.

This time, however, the anti-abortion movement has reached new lows by trying to not only target patients but to try to directly influence the education of future physicians. This is clearly a conscious strategic decision to influence medical education to further exert influence and control and tie the hands of America’s future doctors.

It’s already bad enough that almost half of ob-gyn residents are being trained in states that now ban abortion and thus have no local access to abortion training. We also know medical students are graduating grossly unprepared in this area, with a 2020 study showing that half of medical schools offer no abortion training or have only a single lecture on the topic.

When we refuse to provide abortions, which are considered essential health services by the World Health Organization, it’s a violation of human rights.

Kimberly, medical student

Medical students at Midwestern University are trying their best in a hostile state, under a hostile school administration, to get the education they want and need. Their own dean is undermining their right to learn and practice evidence-based medicine. In an e-mail, the dean explained his reasoning to overrule student’s government’s vote, writing: “I and my office have always done our best to be inclusive and open to diversity, including diversity of thought. We cannot always agree with everyone, but we can be respectful and provide others the benefit of the doubt to express their beliefs.”

But this isn’t about free speech. 

The American Association of Medical Colleges affirms that “the relationship between patient and physician or other provider is the basis of safe and effective health care. Any policies that interfere in that relationship put the patient at risk.” For Medical Students for Life to have an administration-sanctioned presence on campus—while actively promoting non-scientifically sound disinformation—clearly violates this precious rule. It’s no less than a slap in the face to our nation’s future doctors. 

Democracy fights, as the expression goes, with one hand tied behind its back. Nevertheless, it has the upper hand. Rampant misinformation forces us to fight twice as hard as we otherwise would. That’s the hand tied. But we have the upper hand—we are armed with the facts about abortion with a mission of ensuring that pregnant people can make their own reproductive health decisions.

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Olivia Raisner is the creative director and lead investigative reporter at Mayday, a health education nonprofit. Previously, Raisner served as President Biden's traveling digital director at the White House and on his campaign.