Abortion Is Legal, but What Percentage of Ob-gyns Will Provide One?

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A new study released by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, from main author Debra Stulberg, surveys 1,144 ob-gyns (1,800 were initially approached) to see how many provide abortion services. Though legal, abortion is much harder to come by than one might expect: while 97% of ob-gyns reported having encountered women seeking an abortion, only 14% said they were willing to perform the service.

The authors further break down willing abortion providers based on gender, location, and religious affiliation. Here’s the abstract:

OBJECTIVE: To estimate prevalence and correlates of abortion provision among practicing obstetrician–gynecologists (ob-gyns) in the United States.

METHODS: We conducted a national probability sample mail survey of 1,800 practicing ob-gyns. Key variables included whether respondents ever encountered patients seeking abortions in their practice and whether they provided abortion services. Correlates of providing abortion included physician demographic characteristics, religious affiliation, religiosity, and the religious affiliation of the facility in which a physician primarily practices.

RESULTS: Among practicing ob-gyns, 97% encountered patients seeking abortions, whereas 14% performed them. Female physicians were more likely to provide abortions than were male (18.6% compared with 10.6%, adjusted odds ratio 2.54, 95% confidence interval 1.57–4.08), as were those in the youngest age group, those in the Northeast or West, those in highly urban postal codes, and those who identify as being Jewish. Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, non-Evangelical Protestants, and physicians with high religious motivation were less likely to provide abortions.

CONCLUSION: The proportion of U.S. ob-gyns who provide abortions may be lower than estimated in previous research. Access to abortion remains limited by the willingness of physicians to provide abortion services, particularly in rural communities and in the South and Midwest.

Jezebel.com includes the numbers on abortion providers by religion:

40.2 percent of Jewish doctors say yes, compared with
1.2 percent of Evangelical Protestants
9 percent of Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox
10.1 percent of Non-Evangelical Protestants
20 percent of Hindus
26.5 percent of doctors who said they had no religious affiliation

This year has seen a huge spike in abortion restrictions from state legislatures.  According to a Guttmacher Institute survey, of the 162 reproductive health provisions passed in the first six months of 2011, 80 restrict abortion, twice the number from 2005.

 


Jalapa

I am a bit taken aback that Jewish support for abortion is so out of balance with the other segments. For all the conservative arguments made about this being a nation founded on Judeo-Christian notions, it seems that conservatives aren't reading from the same script as our Jewish brothers/sisters.

I also find it unusual that the Jews, a people who have come, via the Holocaust, to understand the preciousness of life like few others, would seem to not display that the way that us conservatives would have thought it would have played out (i.e., in the protection of unborn life).

Or perhaps it is because freedom of choice, taken from Jews during the Holocaust, may be considered the preeminent value in such a contest?

Of course, I don't known how influenced by those events today's Jews are, but from some of the commentary I read, it does appear that they continue to hold those times and those lessons close to heart. It's just a matter of those lessons being different, perhaps, than we would have thought they would have been.

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Diana

It's a real stretch for me to compare the mass murder of six million men, women and children with a medical procedure. Particularly considering that some abortions are necessary to preserve the health of the mother or end an otherwise unviable pregnancy.

Jalapa

Diana,

The key difference is that what you call a "medical procedure" is considered something far more dire to conservatives. With no disrespect, this might be the equivalent of the Orwellian renaming of the Holocaust as some sort of "solution."

Indeed, SOME abortions are necessary. But that doesn't serve as a justification for the 90% that are not, does it?

Captain Oblivious

The reason for the conflict over abortion seems so clear to me, but it amazes me how many people seem to overlook it. People disagree about the procedure because they start with different assumptions, not because they follow different chains of logic. Arguing the logic pretty much never changes anyone's mind (and in fact often hardens people's positions).

To some people it's a personal decision, which no one else should have any say in. If you start by assuming that a fetus does not deserve the rights of an already-born person, this makes perfect sense.

To others abortion is murder, and should be abolished in most or all cases. If you start by assuming that a fetus does deserve the rights of a already-born person, this makes perfect sense.

Slogans like "Aren't you glad your mother didn't abort you?" or "If you don't like abortion, don't have one" are not a constructive part of the debate, because they don't address the fundamental divide from which the disagreements spring.

P.S. I have to say my personal favorite is the politician's fence-straddling line of "I'm opposed to abortion, but I don't think it's my place to impose my beliefs on anyone else". I've always wondered how those people felt about armed robbery? Does anyone say "I'm opposed to armed robbery, but it's a private decision between a man and his gun dealer and it's not my place to intervene"? Why or why not?

----

Full disclosure: I'm reluctantly pro-choice. Except for cases of medical necessity or rape, it's pretty much always a Bad Thing. But it's not quite as bad as forcing women to bear children against their will. In an imperfect world, we sometimes have to choose the least-bad option.

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Jimmy

I consider myself pro-life, not for religious reasons (full-disclosure I'm an atheist), but for the reasons you stated above. Having said that, I've never seen the arguments for both sides so logically laid out anywhere else. Thank you.

Kel

I wouldn't label it an entirely religious issue, either. As somebody with pretty strong pro-choice leanings who's lived in a rural area for most of my life, I'd be hesitant to offer abortions if I went into this field, just because of the side effects it would have on my personal life. Like the chance of a drunk guy trying to beat my window in with a shotgun at 3 AM because his girlfriend got an abortion.

BL1Y

Maybe the study deals with this question, but are all ob-gyns even capable of performing an abortion, or is some further training required?

Julie

I sincerely hope that all those doctors who refuse to perform abortions (and the populace that agree with them) support socialized medicine (so the new babies can have proper medical care if the mothers have no insurance), daycares in high schools (so teenage mothers can finish their degrees), expanding the welfare system (so unemployed single mothers can take care of their children), and a full sex-ed curriculum in high school (so fewer teenagers are getting pregnant in the first place -- abstinence-only education doesn't work).

Also, I hope that they all have adopted children in their homes -- because if a mother is forced to have a child he or she doesn't want, SOMEONE has to take that child, and the foster-care system is laughable.

Captain Oblivious

Do you also believe that those opposed to armed robbery should support increases in welfare, subsidized housing, food stamps, etc, as well as donating a large portion of their incomes to poor people?

Or is there still some room for personal responsibility in the world?

Dave

As a Jew, I am so ashamed...

Clancy

What's the correlation with religion after controlling for the other factors measured? I’d wager there’s a higher percentage of Jewish doctors in urban/blue state areas where abortions are more common, and Evangelical Protestants not so much.

Eric

As an evangelical Christian we try to rely on biblical principles to guide our daily lives. We are, of course, still prone to every human temptation and often fail in our aim. However, biblical truth is our gold standard (notwithstanding the economic arguments against a gold standard!). In Psalms 139: 13-16 it clearly reads that God knows us even as unborn children. I can't fault an unbeliever for thinking abortion is simply a rational choice but as believers we are to love what God loves and hate what God hates. I am pretty sure that God is grieved at the destruction of what He considers to be people. However, i am also pretty sure that God does not hate a person that has an abortion as they are also his creation.

Eric M. Jones.

Regarding your comment:

Thank God for atheists.

n.

"97% encountered patients seeking abortions, whereas 14% performed them"

I am shocked by these figures. Don't get me wrong, not all women seeking an abortion should get one, but this is a way too large gap. Consider the consequences of an unwanted child and compare those to the abortion of a (non-viable) fetus. I'm not saying it is an easy decision (trust me I know) and it shouldn't be taken lightly but in this modern age in which we can (e.g. it is technically possible) make such a decision we should be able and supported in making that decision.

BSK

I think the data needs to be parsed more. As the study notes, many states have far more restrictions on abortion than others. My hunch is that these states have a higher proportion of Christian/Catholic OBGYNs than Jewish ones. If that is the case, there may be Christian/Catholic OBGYNs who might otherwise have performed the procedure if they were in a less restrictive state. Of course, it's equally possible that the state is so restrictive because of the prevalence of Christians and Catholics, OBGYNS among them.

Regardless, it is alarming that so few offer it. I don't know if there are other options for women beyond OBGYNS but, if not, this is woeful. Regardless of your position on abortion, the fact is that women retain a legal right to use the procedure if they feel it necessary. I don't think that doctors should be compelled to perform the procedure (though I'd be curious to see what rights doctors have to refuse to participate in other procedures or refuse treatment to patients under other circumstances). But with the limited options most people already have with doctors and the further limits that insurance companies put on them, such limited accessibility is a defacto restriction on all abortions.

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