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Attitudes towards abortion in graduate and non-graduate entrants to medical school in Ireland
  1. Kevin O'Grady1,
  2. Kieran Doran2,
  3. Colm M P O'Tuathaigh3
  1. 1Medical Student, School of Medicine, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
  2. 2Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Ethics, School of Medicine, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
  3. 3Lecturer in Medical Ethics, School of Medicine, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Colm M P O'Tuathaigh, Medical Education Unit, Brookfield Health Sciences Complex, University College Cork, College Road, Cork, T12 DX01, Ireland; c.otuathaigh{at}


Background Recent legislation has sought to clarify abortion law in Ireland, allowing abortion where pregnancy endangers a woman's life, including through risk of suicide. Previous studies have shown that medical students’ attitudes towards abortion can predict their likelihood to provide abortion care services in the future.

Aim To survey graduate-entry (GEM) and undergraduate-entry (i.e. school-leaver; DEM) medical students in Ireland on their attitudes to abortion, in light of recent changes in legislation.

Methods Irish medical students completed an 18-item anonymous questionnaire, measuring knowledge and attitudes regarding abortion, and current Irish abortion law.

Results Of 525 respondents (response rate 52.9%), 92% indicated that abortion was justified in specific circumstances. Over 80% stated that abortion was justified in cases of risk to the life of the mother (including risk of suicide) or where the fetus would not survive until term. 58.2% believed abortion was justified in the case of certain fetal developmental and genetic defects. 56.6% expressed a willingness to perform a legal abortion in their future practice. GEM students were more likely than DEM students to support availability of abortion services across each of the clinical scenarios. This effect was largely mediated by differences in religious adherence and continent-of-origin across both cohorts.

Conclusions The majority of students, regardless of mode of entry, believed abortion was justified where there was a real risk to the life of the mother (including risk of suicide) or in cases of fetal non-viability. The most significant determinant of students’ beliefs was religious adherence.

  • abortion
  • education and training
  • medical students
  • Ireland

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