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To examine factors associated with physicians’ level of concern with, and perceived consequences of, publicly supporting abortion.
We surveyed physicians at Wisconsin's largest medical school about their knowledge, attitudes, and referral practices regarding abortion care from February to May 2019. Three survey items gauged participant level of concern that taking a strong public stance on abortion would result in: 1) alienating patients; 2) alienating coworkers; and 3) harassment or harm from protestors who held opposing views. Among those who expressed support for abortion (n=701), we analyzed sample characteristics and perceived concerns about publicly supporting abortion.
Nearly one-quarter (22%) of respondents felt very or extremely concerned that taking a strong public stance on abortion would alienate patients, and 17% felt very or extremely concerned that doing so would alienate coworkers. More than one-quarter (27%) felt very or extremely concerned that publicly supporting abortion would lead to harassment or harm — including approximately one-third of radiologists (33%), anesthesiologists (36%), and obstetrician gynecologists (31%), and nearly half (46%) of emergency medicine physicians. Those with greater concerns about expressing public support for abortion were comparatively less willing to refer for or participate in abortion care themselves.
Many physicians who support abortion reported worries over publicizing their support for this common healthcare service. These concerns may render physicians less likely to refer patients for abortion care or weigh in on abortion policy, as well as undermine physicians’ potential to be powerful and effective advocates against abortion stigma and other barriers to abortion access.
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