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Doctors as messengers: Mobilizing physicians across all medical specialties to respond to state level abortion restrictions

Lisa Harris, University of Michigan, 2013

Project abstract

When abortion access is not legally and readily available, the health consequences for women are dire. However, contemporary abortion debate is so politicized that health consequences of abortion restrictions have receded to the background.

While it is important that physicians who are abortion-providers educate legislators and the public about evidence-based abortion care, they can be dismissed as having professional or financial conflicts of interest. In addition, their public advocacy may put them at risk of harassment or violence. Physicians who are not themselves abortion providers are less vulnerable to these claims and are well-positioned to move the health consequences of restrictive abortion policy to the center of legislative debates and public discourse.

The aim of this project is to explore the willingness/unwillingness of Michigan physicians across a range of medical specialties to speak openly about health consequences of restrictive state-level abortion laws. Further, the project will determine what kinds of tools or support would be necessary to mobilize physicians to do so.

We will conduct 6-8 focus groups with a total of 50 Michigan physicians who support legal abortion (though may oppose abortion personally) to determine what factors would influence their involvement in abortion advocacy. We will explore attitudes towards writing letters-to-the-editor/op-ed pieces in state publications; meeting with legislators; providing testimony in legislative hearings; raising their voices in their practices/academic departments/medical societies.

Focus groups will be recorded and transcribed, and we will perform qualitative analysis using Dedoose to identify salient themes. These data will help us determine if mobilizing physicians who are not abortion providers is a feasible strategy in responding to state-level restrictive legislation, and determine the kinds of support and toolkits necessary to do so. Our data may identify new strategies for responding to the proliferation of state-level abortion restrictions.


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