The Future Abortionists of America

Abortions are simple procedures, yet fewer than 0.2% of U.S. doctors perform them. Meet the new guard trying to improve access for all.

Malcolm Harris
Published in
18 min readSep 4, 2018
Art: Claire Merchlinsky

A sign in the lobby of the Philadelphia hotel read:

Please enjoy your day!

Meanwhile, in the ballroom upstairs, a significant portion of America’s current and future abortion providers were eating breakfast. The fake-out sign was one of multiple security measures, but the atmosphere at the Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) national conference still hummed with energy. Over the course of a day and a half, 450-plus medical students tried to absorb as much information as possible about providing abortions, information that—depending on where they go to school—can be extremely difficult to get. The vast majority of attendees were women in their early twenties. When the organization’s executive director Lois Backus announced that one of the two men’s rooms would defect for the weekend, an involuntary cheer passed through the audience, followed by laughter.

There are approximately 1,700 abortionists working in the United States—about the same number as active NFL players, and a small fraction compared to the 10,000-plus orthodontists. Because abortion reporting isn’t mandatory in all states, exact numbers on procedures performed aren’t available, but most estimates put the current annual total between 650,000 and 750,000. The rate works out to more than one procedure per day, every day of the year, for every single provider, and it’s not equally distributed among those 1,700 doctors. Though most abortions are simple procedures, national capacity is stretched, representing yet another threat to U.S. abortion access at a time when state laws are increasingly chipping away at reproductive rights. In 2017, more abortion restrictions were enacted at the state level—doctors and advocates call them TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provision) laws—than in the entire previous decade.

However, the paucity of abortion providers is not simply a function of the war on choice. Attacks on doctors have slowed as the anti-abortion-rights movement switched tactics from terrorism…



Malcolm Harris
Writer for

Author of “Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials” malcolmpharris@gmail ☭