In response to the obstetric malpractice crisis, both obstetrician-gynecologists and family physicians have raised their fees and preferentially selected lower risk patients. In addition, large numbers of general and family physicians have left obstetric practice altogether. The impact of these responses was explored by examining the differences in the demographic and clinical profile of patients served by these two disciplines in the State of Washington. Eighty-five percent (45,540) of all complete records from 1983 births attended by physicians in the State of Washington were matched to physician specialty information. These births represent 67% of the total deliveries in Washington State in 1983. Although twice as many general and family physicians as obstetricians were practicing obstetrics, obstetricians delivered 2.5 times as many infants as did general and family physicians. Obstetricians served an older patient population with more low-birthweight infants, multiple births, and complications of pregnancy than family physicians. General and family physicians were more likely to care for minorities, teenagers, and unmarried and rural mothers. Obstetricians cared for patients with higher medical risks, whereas general and family physicians provided care to more socially vulnerable and geographically isolated populations. To the extent that general and family physicians are differentially abandoning obstetric practice because of the current malpractice crisis, access to care for rural and socially vulnerable groups may deteriorate rapidly.