Context: Women in Great Britain may obtain abortions only if they meet certain criteria and the procedure is approved by two physicians. Since seeing a general practitioner is typically a woman's first step toward obtaining an abortion, these doctors' attitudes about the procedure are very important.
Methods: In 1999, a random sample of 702 general practitioners participated in a mailed survey regarding their attitudes toward abortion and the British Abortion Act.
Results: Four in five respondents considered themselves broadly prochoice, and three in five believed that the current law should be liberalized to give women the right to obtain an abortion without regard as to reason. Three-quarters of doctors favored government provision of free abortions, and one-quarter thought that the current law places an unreasonable burden on general practitioners. However, physicians' opinions about whether the abortion decision should be the woman's alone depended on the pregnancy's gestation, and three-fifths of respondents said that the law was appropriate. Among doctors who were broadly antiabortion, one-fifth favored women's right to choose, and two-thirds supported the current law; however, nearly half opposed government funding of abortion services, and one-quarter did not feel that physicians need to reveal their antiabortion stance to patients.
Conclusions: Although Great Britain's abortion law is more restrictive than those in many other developed countries, general practitioners have largely positive attitudes toward women's access to abortion and toward the existing law. Their occasionally contradictory views, however, suggest that some areas are potentially problematic.