Doctors as messengers: Mobilizing physicians across all medical specialties to respond to state level abortion restrictions
Awarded 2013
Large Research Grants
Lisa Harris, MD, PhD
University of Michigan

Physicians can provide compelling testimony when state legislatures consider health issues. However, for abortion legislation, abortion-providing physicians may be discounted as biased or having a conflict of interest. We explored the willingness of non-abortion providing physicians to advocate for abortion access. We recruited Michigan doctors from a range of specialties, who were known by the study team to personally support abortion rights. We conducted focus groups and individual interviews, which were audio-recorded and transcribed. We analyzed transcripts for thematic content using Dedoose, according to grounded theory principles. 16 physicians participated, representing 8 medical subspecialties and a range of practice settings. Most identified a time when their own patient(s) needed abortion services. Participants described experiences directly relevant to legislative debates but were unaware that their perspectives might be important to legislative deliberations. Participants identified a range of obstacles to advocacy: time scarcity, need political neutrality, fear of alienating patients/trainees, risk of losing their job, and becoming targets of harassment or violence. Despite reservations, most indicated willingness to participate in advocacy with appropriate guidance and support. Many expressed willingness to work for abortion access within their professional societies. Developing allies among non-abortion providing physicians and among health care providers more broadly, may be important in efforts to protect abortion access. Strategies include helping caregivers see how their unique expertise and experiences are indeed relevant to policy debates, and supporting mobilization within subspecialty societies.