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Abortion education in UK medical schools: a survey of medical educators
  1. Catriona Rennison1,
  2. Emily Jane Woodhead2,
  3. Corrina Horan3,4,
  4. Patricia A Lohr5,
  5. Jayne Kavanagh2
  1. 1 Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  2. 2 University College London (UCL) Medical School, London, UK
  3. 3 Community Sexual and Reproductive Health, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  4. 4 EGA Institute for Women's Health, University College London, London, UK
  5. 5 British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Catriona Rennison, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK; c.rennison{at}


Aim The 2019 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on abortion care emphasised the importance of teaching the topic at undergraduate and postgraduate level. This study aimed to investigate the current provision of undergraduate abortion education in UK medical schools.

Methods Relevant medical ethics and clinical leads from the 33 established UK medical schools were invited to complete surveys on the ethico-legal or clinical aspects, respectively, of their institution’s abortion teaching. The surveys explored how abortion is currently taught, assessed the respondent’s opinion on current barriers to comprehensive teaching, and their desire for further guidance on undergraduate abortion teaching.

Results Some 76% (25/33) of medical schools responded to one or both surveys. The number of hours spent on ethico-legal teaching ranged from under 1 hour to over 8 hours, with most clinical teaching lasting under 2 hours. Barriers to teaching were reported by 68% (21/31) of respondents, the most common being difficulty accessing clinical placements, lack of curriculum time, and the perception of abortion as a sensitive topic. Some 74% (23/31) of respondents would welcome additional guidance on teaching abortion to medical undergraduates.

Conclusions Education on abortion, particularly clinical education, varies widely among UK medical schools. Most educators experience barriers to providing comprehensive abortion teaching and would welcome up-to-date guidance on teaching both the clinical and ethico-legal aspects of abortion to medical students. It is essential that medical schools address the barriers to teaching, to ensure all medical students have the knowledge, skills and attitudes to provide competent and respectful abortion-related care once qualified.

  • abortion, induced
  • abortion, therapeutic
  • health education
  • reproductive health
  • surveys and questionnaires

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. An anonymised dataset can be made available upon request. The original, un-anonymised data cannot be shared due to data protection.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. An anonymised dataset can be made available upon request. The original, un-anonymised data cannot be shared due to data protection.

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  • Twitter @CatrionaRennis1, @CorrinaHoran

  • Contributors JK conceived of the study. JK, CR and EJW planned the study. CH led the ethics application, with support from CR and JK. CR, EJW and JK developed the surveys, with assistance from CH and PAL. CR and EJW sent the invitations to participate in the study to medical educators. EJW used SPSS statistics to process the results and wrote up the initial findings. CR led the final write up of the study, with input from JK, CH and PAL. CR and JK are responsible for the overall content as guarantors.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Language note The surveys developed for this paper used the word ‘women’ to refer to people who have abortions. However, the authors have since come to recognise the importance of using gender-inclusive language, as not all people who have abortions will identify as women. Gender-additive and gender-neutral language have therefore been used throughout this paper, except when quoting directly from the survey, to accurately reflect the questions asked of survey participants.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.