The research appears in the October issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. The findings are based on responses from 301 physicians.
Yale researchers from the Departments of Political Science and Psychiatry wanted to explore physician bias, so they presented primary care doctors who were Democrats and Republicans with nine hypothetical patient scenarios, including one on abortion care. The scenario involved a 28-year-old woman who’d had two abortions in five years with no complications and was not currently pregnant.
Asked how they’d treat this hypothetical patient, Republican doctors were more likely to discourage the patient from having more abortions, the authors found. Republican physicians were also more likely to discuss mental health in relation to abortion care.
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“It may be more likely that people who are anti-abortion are going to think that abortion is associated with bad mental health outcomes when the science doesn’t support that,” Dr. Matthew Goldenberg, a study co-author and psychiatrist, told the Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen.
Major research reports from the American Psychological Association, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges found few, if any, differences between those who ended their pregnancies and those who gave birth. A national study on issues of self-esteem and depression in teenagers found that adolescents who chose abortion care were “no more likely to become depressed or have low self-esteem” than those who gave birth.
The Yale study references and builds on research that has found physicians’ gender and patients’ race and ethnicity influence health-care decisions.
“Patients should be aware that—based on the results of the study—physicians bring some of their own political views, whether consciously or unconsciously, into the exam room with them and may make treatment decisions based on those views,” Goldenberg told the Daily Beast.
The authors suggest the need for more awareness and physician training around treatments that are prone to politicization.
“Given the politicization of certain health issues, it is imperative that physicians consider how their own political views may impact their professional judgments,” the authors concluded.