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Medical Students Increasingly Opposed to Abortion

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Women could find it harder to obtain an abortion as a growing number of doctors are opposed to carrying them out.

A survey of the views of medical students found that almost half believe that doctors should be able to refuse treatments or procedures that they object to on moral or religious grounds.

Of all treatments questioned, abortion provoked the strongest reaction. Almost a third of the 733 students surveyed stated that they would not perform an abortion after 24 weeks for a foetus with congenital deformities. A quarter would not perform an abortion for failed contraception before 24 weeks and a fifth would not perform an abortion on a minor who had been raped.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said of the findings, “Abortion is taught increasingly infrequently in medical school, and students may not be required to engage much with the reasons why a woman may find herself with an unwanted pregnancy and the distress this may cause. All of us involved in women’s reproductive healthcare need to ensure that young doctors understand why women need abortions.”

Muslim students were most likely to support a doctor’s right to refuse a procedure, with 76.2% in favour. The backing amongst Catholic students reached 46.3%.

Guidelines drawn up by the General Medical Council (GMC) advises doctors to refer a patient to a colleague if they object to a certain procedure or treatment. “However, we also make clear that doctors have an overriding duty to provide care for patients who are in need of medical treatment, whatever the cause of that medical need. It is not acceptable to opt out of treating a particular patient or group of patients because of personal beliefs or views,” said Dr Peter Rubin, the GMC’s chair.

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