Background Many younger adults in the UK have matured in a society that encompasses relatively liberal access to termination of pregnancy (TOP) together with shifts in how disability, and disabled people, are conceptualised. Against this backdrop, some disability writers suggest that Clause E of the Abortion Act represents discriminatory attitudes towards disabled people. There is little empirical work on attitudes of younger adults about this issue, and such research could illuminate contemporary attitudes that may influence medical students/trainees.
Methods Qualitative, semistructured interview study. Interviews with 10 students (Higher Education) were transcribed, coded and analysed (using a generative thematic approach). Participants were recruited via convenience and purposive sampling (five male, five female). The interviews covered: TOP statistics; TOP Clauses; and four vignettes (based on hypothetical scenarios) to assess perceived acceptability of TOP for non-lethal fetal anomaly.
Results Participants' views on the acceptability of TOP for non-lethal fetal anomaly were influenced by factors falling under three key themes: (1) personal contact with disabled people – for example a friend or family member; (2) ethics and moral values – for example the ethical issues raised for the participant by developments in medical knowledge and technologies; and (3) social justice – perceived difficulties associated with everyday life, such as resource constraints and family forms.
Conclusion Many participants expressed views about whether TOP was felt to be acceptable or not, but for some these generalised views on morally acceptable behaviour. However, these views were mediated by understandings of personalised social acceptability and the relevance of practical circumstances.
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