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Fam Med. 2017 Jul;49(7):527-536.

Pregnancy Options Counseling and Abortion Referrals Among US Primary Care Physicians: Results From a National Survey.

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Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.



Primary care physicians (PCPs) can play a critical role in addressing unintended pregnancy through high-quality options counseling and referrals.


We surveyed a nationally representative sample of 3,000 PCPs in general, family, and internal medicine on practices and opinions related to options counseling for unintended pregnancy. We assessed predictors of physician practices using multivariable logistic regression weighted for sampling design and differential non-response.


Response rate was 29%. Seventy-one percent believed residency training in options counseling should be required, and 69% believed PCPs have an obligation to provide abortion referrals even in the presence of a personal objection to abortion. However, only 26% reported routine options counseling when caring for women with unintended pregnancy compared to 60% who routinely discuss prenatal care. Among physicians who see women seeking abortion, 62% routinely provide referrals, while 14% routinely attempt to dissuade women. Family physicians were more likely to provide routine options counseling when seeing patients with unintended pregnancy than internal medicine physicians (32% vs 21%, P=0.002). In multivariable analyses, factors associated with higher odds of routine abortion referrals were more years in practice (OR=1.03 for each additional year, 95% CI: 1.00-1.05), identifying as a woman vs a man (OR=2.11, 95% CI: 1.31-3.40), practicing in a hospital vs private primary care/multispecialty setting (OR=3.17, 95% CI: 1.10-9.15), and no religious affiliation of practice vs religious affiliation (OR for Catholic affiliation=0.27, 95% CI: 0.11-0.66; OR for other religious affiliation=0.36, 95% CI: 0.15-0.83). Personal Christian religious affiliation among physicians who regularly attend religious services vs no religious affiliation was associated with lower odds of counseling (OR=0.48, 95% CI: 0.26-0.90) and referrals (OR=0.31, 95% CI: 0.15-0.62), and higher odds of abortion dissuasion (OR=4.03, 95% CI: 1.46-11.14).


Findings reveal the need to support fuller integration of options counseling and abortion referrals in primary care, particularly through institutional and professional society guidelines and training opportunities to impart skills and highlight the professional obligation to provide non-directive information and support to women with unintended pregnancy.

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