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Views on Abortion: A Comparison of Female Genetic Counselors and Women from the General Population

Abstract

While literature characterizing individual genetic counselors’ abortion attitudes is sparse, the National Society of Genetic Counselors takes a clear stance for reproductive autonomy. To determine genetic counselors’ views, this study compared (1) genetic counselors’ abortion attitudes to those of women from the general population and (2) genetic counselors’ professional abortion attitudes to their personal abortion attitudes. Genetic counselors were invited to complete an online survey. Response rate was 44.3% (709/1,601). Compared to women from the general population, female genetic counselors were significantly more likely to agree abortion should be an option in all cases (p < .001). Controlling for other possible confounders, regression analyses revealed that being a genetic counselor, religious service attendance and age were significantly predictive of abortion attitudes. Although the vast majority of genetic counselors agree that abortion should be available, they are significantly less likely to personally consider abortion under all circumstances presented (p < .001), and the percentage of genetic counselors who would consider terminating in the case of a severe birth defect is similar to studies of other women.

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Notes

  1. More information about the GSS can be found at http://www.norc.org/GSS+Website/

  2. Factor analysis is not shown but is available upon request. Rape is included as a medical reason because, based on previous studies and our factor analysis, most people’s view about the acceptability of abortion in cases of rape falls in line with their views about abortion in cases of birth defects and endangerment of the mother’s life. Interestingly, factor analysis using only data from genetic counselors revealed that rape was split nearly fifty-fifty between the two factors. Although this suggests that genetic counselors evaluate rape from both “medical” and “psychosocial” perspectives, grouping rape with the medical reasons was consistent with previous research and our comparison group. Additionally, including the rape variable in the psychosocial scale reduced the scale’s reliability while inclusion of rape in the medical reasons scale increased the scale’s reliability.

  3. This response rate is a conservative estimate given that the actual number of people receiving the emailed cover letter is probably less than 1,601 since email addresses change frequently and other technological complications (e.g., spam filters) can result in people not receiving the invitation to participate in the survey.

  4. The two variables used to predict the probability of response were participants’ race (dummy coded as 0 = non-white and 1 = white) and frequency of prayer (1 = several times a day; 6 = never). The Lambda for the Heckmann correction was also calculated using race and frequency of attendance with very little difference in the resulting models. We chose to use the Lambda calculated using frequency of prayer to reduce the collinearity between the Heckmann correction coefficient and frequency of attendance.

  5. This is calculated using the slope coefficient for being a genetic counselor, .392, found in Table 5. Being a genetic counselor actually increases one’s permissiveness on the scale of attitudes toward abortion .392 points. As it is a 3-point scale, dividing .392 by 3 gives .13, or 13%. In other words, there is a 13% difference in attitudes toward abortion between genetic counselors and non-genetic counselors on average.

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Acknowledgements

We are indebted to all the genetic counselors who took the time to participate in this survey. This project was completed as part of the requirements of the University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program. Thanks go to that program as well as the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for the support, time, and space necessary to complete a Master’s thesis. We also owe a debt of gratitude to David J. Maume and the Kunz Center in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cincinnati for hosting the survey and providing technical support.

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Correspondence to Amelia R. Woltanski.

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Woltanski, A.R., Cragun, R.T., Myers, M.F. et al. Views on Abortion: A Comparison of Female Genetic Counselors and Women from the General Population. J Genet Counsel 18, 28–41 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10897-008-9177-9

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Keywords

  • Genetic counseling
  • Religion
  • Abortion
  • Belief
  • Attitude
  • Nondirectiveness
  • Ethics