One in three women in the United Kingdom (UK) will have an abortion before age 45, making abortion provision an essential aspect of reproductive healthcare. Despite this, abortion remains ethically contested and stigmatised, with variable teaching in UK medical schools and concerns about falling numbers of doctors willing to participate in abortion care. University College London Medical School (UCLMS) has designed practical, inclusive, teaching that aims to give students an understanding of the importance of abortion care and prepare them to be competent practitioners in this area. This study aimed to determine students’ opinions of this teaching and their wider attitudes towards abortion.
We invited all 357 final-year UCL medical students to complete an online survey consisting of closed-ended questions, exploring their opinions on their abortion teaching, their personal beliefs about abortion and their future willingness to be involved in abortion care. We analysed responses using non-parametric tests.
One hundred and forty-six questionnaires (41% response rate) showed 83% of students identified as pro-choice (agree with the right to choose an abortion). Fifty-seven percent felt they received the right amount of abortion teaching, 39% would have liked more and 4% stated they received too much. There was no correlation between students’ attitudes to abortion and the rating of teaching; both pro-choice and pro-life (opposed to the right to choose an abortion) students generally rated the teaching as important and valued the range of methods used. Students requested more simulated practice speaking to patients requesting an abortion. Students with pro-life beliefs expressed lower willingness to discuss, refer, certify and provide future abortions. Students interested in careers in specialties where they may encounter abortion were more likely to be pro-choice than pro-life.
The majority of participating UCL medical students were pro-choice and willing to be involved in future abortion care. Efforts to make teaching on abortion practical, engaging, sensitive and inclusive were appreciated. As well as preparing students to be competent and caring practitioners, the teaching appears to contribute towards them viewing abortion as an essential aspect of women’s healthcare, and may contribute to destigmatising abortion.