Family physicians agree abortion care aligns with the values of family medicine

Unlike other specialties defined by a focus on organ systems or other areas of expertise, family medicine is defined by core values of caring for the whole person and adapting to evolving needs of patients and communities. While many family physicians believe abortion is within their scope, the majority don’t provide abortion care despite managing early pregnancy loss.

In a new paper, the Person-Centered Reproductive Health Program explores the values that drove family physicians to the profession and how those relate to abortion care.

Family physicians in the study identified with the values of the specialty, including relationships, care across the lifespan, whole-person care, nonjudgmental care, meeting community needs, and social justice. Many emphasized the importance of building trusting relationships with their patients, and shared stories of the patients telling them, “You’re the only person I trust to do this.”

The physicians overwhelmingly believed that providing abortion care aligned with the core values of family medicine, regardless of whether they offered that care. As one explained, “We’re the ones that see the patients the most, and so we should be the ones to be able to help them at all stages of their health care.” Many participants were frustrated that they were not able to provide abortion care. People who were trained in abortion care felt that being unable to offer that care was upsetting, awkward, and disruptive to their relationships with patients. Physicians shared that not providing abortion care was a barrier to living up to the values that drew them to the specialty in the first place.

This raises questions about what stands in the way of family physicians providing this care. There are a range of barriers, including lack of training, legal restrictions, resistance at the administrative and practice level, and logistical barriers. Some participants in this study said they became increasingly motivated to provide this care by talking about it, suggesting that engagement with family physicians about their decision making could help.

In situations where care is hard to get, offering a full range of health care services that people need is consistent with the social justice values of family medicine. This is even more pronounced since the Supreme Court opened the door for states to ban abortion care. Providers who integrate abortion into their scope of practice can help reduce strain on abortion clinics and improve access for their patients.