Barriers to abortion provision: A qualitative study among medical students and gynecologists in Berlin, Germany

Elsevier, Contraception, Volume 130, February 2024
Baier A., Behnke A.-L.

Objectives: While abortion is a common medical procedure in Germany, the number of abortion-providing facilities declined by 46% between 2003 and 2022. As existing data do not paint a complete picture of the factors influencing this decline, an understanding into the perspectives of health care professionals (HCPs) is necessary. We set out to examine attitudes of HCPs in Berlin, Germany toward different aspects of abortion to identify barriers that might prevent them from providing abortions. Study design: We used a qualitative research design consisting of in-depth semistructured one-on-one interviews with 14 medical students and four gynecologists. We transcribed interviews verbatim and conducted qualitative content analysis. Results: Many interviewees perceived abortion as a taboo and legally ambiguous intervention. They feared stigmatization when talking about or providing abortions, especially by fellow students or religious family members. Few participants objected to abortion provision on religious grounds. Some medical students underestimated the safety of abortion and overestimated the potential for side effects and complications. Medical students obtained their knowledge about abortion from various sources, such as media, religious school education, or personal experience with abortion; the topic was rarely discussed in their medical education. To decide whether to provide abortions later, many students wished for detailed abortion teaching during medical school and residency. Conclusions: Fear of stigmatization, misconceptions on abortion, and religious beliefs reduced HCPs’ willingness to perform abortions. Abortion education was widely valued by medical students and could address some of the barriers to abortion provision we found in this study. Implications: Universities and teaching hospitals should systematically teach about abortion to counteract misinformation and help normalize abortions among HCPs. Moreover, political decision-makers should take measures in order to destigmatize abortion, like an abortion regulation outside the Criminal Code in line with international public health recommendations.