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      What should medical students be taught about abortion? An evaluation of student attitudes towards their abortion teaching and their future involvement in abortion care


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          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.

          Supplementary Information

          The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12909-020-02414-9.

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          Most cited references18

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          In Pursuit of Three Theories: Authoritarianism, Relative Deprivation, and Intergroup Contact.

          Throughout my career, I have pursued three theories related to intergroup prejudice--each with a different mentor. Each theory and its supporting research help us to understand prejudice and ways to ameliorate the problem. This autobiographical review article summarizes some of the advances in these three areas during the past six decades. For authoritarianism, the article advocates removing political content from its measurement, linking it with threat and dismissive-avoidant attachment, and studying how authoritarians avoid intergroup contact. Increased work on relative deprivation made possible an extensive meta-analysis that shows the theory, when appropriately measured, has far broader effects than previously thought. Increased research attention to intergroup contact similarly made possible a meta-analysis that established the pervasive effectiveness of intergroup contact to reduce prejudice under a wide range of conditions. The article closes by demonstrating how the three theories relate to each other and contribute to our understanding of prejudice and its reduction.
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            Who presents more than once? Repeat abortion among women in Britain.

            Around one in three sexually active women in Britain will have an abortion during their lifetime and a third of those women will experience more than one. Using data collected during the second National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles the characteristics of women who have presented for a second or subsequent abortion are compared to those women who have obtained only one.
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              Conscientious objection in medical students: a questionnaire survey.

              To explore attitudes towards conscientious objections among medical students in the UK.

                Author and article information

                BMC Med Educ
                BMC Med Educ
                BMC Medical Education
                BioMed Central (London )
                4 January 2021
                4 January 2021
                : 21
                : 4
                [1 ]GRID grid.83440.3b, ISNI 0000000121901201, University College London Medical School, ; London, UK
                [2 ]GRID grid.410556.3, ISNI 0000 0001 0440 1440, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, ; Oxford, UK
                [3 ]GRID grid.83440.3b, ISNI 0000000121901201, Institute of Health Informatics, , University College London, ; London, UK
                [4 ]British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), London, UK
                Author information
                © The Author(s) 2021

                Open AccessThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

                : 11 September 2020
                : 2 December 2020
                Research Article
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                © The Author(s) 2021

                abortion,medical students,women’s health,ethics and law,inclusive curriculum
                abortion, medical students, women’s health, ethics and law, inclusive curriculum


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