U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra paid a visit to UC San Francisco researchers, educators and clinical leaders on Monday to laud them for their leadership in reproductive health, as the Biden Administration seeks to preserve access to abortion care in post-Roe America.
Becerra said research from UCSF’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) program and the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences is needed to shape public policy, inform legal arguments and also guide the cultural debate around abortion in the wake of the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision that ended the national right to abortion.
“This is an institution that is renowned, not just in California, but throughout the world,” Becerra said during an event at UCSF Pride Hall, the new research and academic building at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital & Trauma Center. “It’s great that you all have stepped up because there are people who are really looking for heroes out there right now.”
Since the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision, 14 states have banned abortion and 11 have imposed gestational limits as low as six weeks. This spring, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could curtail access across the country to mifepristone, which is used in medication abortions. About half of abortions are now done with pills that can be mailed after a telehealth visit with a doctor or nurse practitioner, as opposed to procedures that must be done in the clinic, and this ruling could affect the availability of abortion care even in states like California, where access was not restricted in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision.
Researchers track the impacts of restricted access
Researchers who are part of ANSIRH have been documenting problems with access and care across the country. In May, Grossman released Care Post-Roe, which gathers clinician reports of delays, denials of care and poor health outcomes as well as clinicians’ distress at being unable to provide needed care in states where abortion is restricted or no longer available.
Ushma Upadhyay, PhD, MPH, professor in UCSF’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Science, is co-leading the #WeCount study to document the shifts in abortion access in states post-Roe and is researching the expansion of abortion services through telehealth.
Diana Greene Foster, PhD, also a professor in UCSF’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, was named a 2023 MacArthur Fellow — one of the most coveted honors in academia — for her groundbreaking study on what happens to women who can’t get abortions. She is now collaborating with scientists across the country to understand how people are navigating the patchwork of abortion restrictions and bans.
“We at UCSF really recognize the critical role we have to play as national leaders for the care of women and other people with the capacity for pregnancy,” said Daniel Grossman, MD, who directs ANSIRH. “This is a role that we have had here for decades.”
Rebecca Jackson, MD, chief of the Division of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at ZSFG, told the secretary that there are 20,000 medical students and 1,800 residents in states that have banned abortions, underscoring UCSF’s need to continue to train abortion providers from those states.
Not being able to provide the care patients need causes moral distress for physicians, she said.
“While we’re working with medical students in residency programs to try to mitigate that distress, really what we want to do is provide to you and others the education and research that you need to help us overturn these bans,” she said.