UH Med Now
Abortion Training in Hawai’i made more accessible through new Health Equity Fund
Date: December 6th, 2022 in Donors, Giving, JABSOM News, OB-GYN
Dr. Reni Soon and Dr. Tracy Chen went to medical school knowing they’d be abortion providers.
For Dr. Soon, several life experiences shaped her decision.
“I saw the 17-year-old with her college future ahead of her, clinging to her mom’s hand as a Planned Parenthood doctor did her procedure,” Soon remembers. “The 40-year-old wrestler with type 1 diabetes, who knew a pregnancy would derail the progress made in her health, or the ‘second chance’ I received during college,” she said. Those pivotal moments in Dr. Soon’s life played a role in becoming an abortion provider. “I knew that’s the healing and wellness I wanted to help people achieve,” she said.
Dr. Chen was so committed to providing care that as a third-year medical student, she dedicated her Christmas break to independently training at an abortion clinic because her medical school didn’t offer learners the opportunity. “As a future OBGYN, I didn’t want my lack of knowledge to be the barrier to abortion access for a patient. Learning from the providers and patients at that clinic kind of kickstarted my career path,” she said.
Dr. Chen is a first-year Complex Family Planning Fellow at the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health Department. She practices at The Queen’s University Medical Group.
Dr. Soon also practices at The Queen’s Health System. She is also a professor and the Program Director for the Complex Family Planning Fellowship at JABS0M. Dr. Soon and Dr. Chen practice at the Women’s Options Center, which is part of the Queens University Medical Group on the Queens Punchbowl Campus.
Even though both doctors are doing what they set out to do, their journey hasn’t been easy. Pulling the curtain back on what it’s like to provide abortions, Dr. Soon revealed that it could be isolating and stigmatizing.
“Because of the politics in this country, abortion has been out of mainstream medicine. Most abortions in the U.S. are done in clinics, completely separate from hospitals. Many hospitals don’t even allow abortions, and the ones that do, often tolerate them,” Soon said. “I’ve been asked by colleagues, in other specialties, and in OB/GYN as well, ‘isn’t there a better way to make money?”‘
While abortion access remains a contentious issue across America, Dr. Thomas Kosasa and his family are helping ensure Hawai’i remains a haven for abortion access and abortion justice. Via the UH Foundation, Dr. Kosasa is contributing $250,000 to establish the ‘Aukai Fund for Abortion and Reproductive Health Equity. The ‘Aukai Fund helps abortion access at every level. It supports research, fellow, and faculty support. It will also help cover education expenses for Complex Family Planning students while assisting patients with family planning, contraception, and unforeseen expenses for accessing abortion care.
Dr. lvica Zalud, JABSOM’s Department of OB/GYN and Women’s Health Professor and Chair thanked Dr. Kosasa and his family during a brief midday ceremony at the OB/GYN Department.
“We are so deeply grateful to you and your family, to your commitments, particularly during this turbulent time when many things in this country went backward, to support reproductive justice, reproductive health and women’s right to abortion at a time when those rights are penalized the most,” Zalud said.
Dr. Kosasa, professor emeritus at JABSOM, is also an OB/GYN physician at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children. Executives from two of Hawaii’s largest health systems also joined to share their gratitude for Dr. Kosasa’s gift to UH.
“Your connectivity to our community is truly amazing, said the CEO of Hawai’i Pacific Health Medical Group, Leslie Chun, MD. “You are part of the fabric of who we are in Hawai’i, the fabric of the Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children, and part of OB/GYN Department at the University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine. At every turn, you are there. Your presence and energy are amazing.”
Rick Bruno, MD, the President of The Queen’s University Medical Group, said, “Les and I are friends. We’re buddies and competitors, but I want to thank you, Dr. Kosasa, for bringing us together to help grow our faculty.”
Doctors expect the ‘Aukai Fund will have a lasting impact on safe, quality care in Hawai’i.
“Having the option to do an abortion gives people the ability to make a decision and to shape their future according to what they want that future to be,” Dr. Soon said.
Matthew Campbell, Director of Communications