To determine the reasons some family physicians continue to practice obstetrics when most of their colleagues do not, we surveyed family physicians in 26 counties of northern California whose practices include obstetrics and those who have recently discontinued it. In all, 70% of family physicians practicing obstetrics cited enjoying it as a reason for continuing this practice. Over a third of family physicians practicing obstetrics thought that obstetric practice was a responsibility to the community. Only 1 in 6 reported obstetrics to be important in terms of financial implications. Despite this, family physicians practicing obstetrics had a mean gross income derived from obstetric practice of $30,000 above the cost of their total malpractice premium. In contrast, a comparison group of family physicians who had recently discontinued obstetrics cited malpractice insurance costs most frequently as the reason for discontinuing it. Nearly 40% of these physicians indicated that they would be willing to return to obstetrics if circumstances were to change substantially. The most frequently cited change necessary for these physicians to return to obstetrics was a reduction in malpractice insurance rates.