Only 1 in 7 ob-gyns performs abortions

Most get asked, but few comply. The majority who do practice in the Northeast and urban areas.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Sept. 16, 2011

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Nearly all obstetrician-gynecologists encounter patients seeking an abortion, but only 14% perform the procedure.

Gender, religious affiliation and practice location were key factors among doctors who did abortions, says a study published in the September Obstetrics & Gynecology (link).

Of 1,144 ob-gyns surveyed, 19% of female doctors and 11% of male doctors performed abortions.

About 27% of doctors who reported no religious affiliation performed abortions. Doctors who identified themselves as Jewish did the procedure at the highest rate of any religious affiliation, with 40% providing abortions. Among other religions, the numbers were: Hindu ob-gyns, 20%; Muslims, 16%; nonevangelical Protestants, 10%; and Roman Catholics, 9%.

Physicians practicing in the Northeast and urban areas were more likely to provide abortions than doctors in other locations. The findings show that patients in rural areas have limited access to abortions, study authors said.

"Previous surveys indicate that providers living in rural areas are less likely to perform abortions, even if they do not personally object to abortion," they said. "Such physicians often face opposition from the surrounding community, especially because facilities for surgical abortions are often targeted for protests by anti-abortion activists."

Abortion services differ by age

Physician age influenced who provided abortions. Doctors between 26 and 35 -- the youngest group surveyed -- were most likely to perform abortions, followed by physicians 56 to 65, the oldest group surveyed. Doctors 36 to 45 were least likely to provide abortions.

"I think the group of older ob-gyns came of age when women had very little resources for abortion," said lead study author Debra Stulberg, MD, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "They saw [women] who were getting unsafe and illegal abortions often get sick and die. They carry the weight of seeing that from their younger years. The younger group may now be stepping up as the others retire."

A similar study conducted between 1998 and 2001 found that 22% of ob-gyns performed abortions, 8% more than Dr. Stulberg's study found.

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