Grace Getchell, Sofia Horan, Katelynn G. Sagaser, Laura Hercher
Genetic counselors (GCs) play an important role in providing and coordinating care for patients considering abortion care secondary to fetal anomaly and/or genetic diagnosis. In the United States, restrictive legislation reducing access to abortion has increased dramatically in recent years. In Texas, an unusual vigilante-style law went into effect in September 2021, effectively banning all abortion after 6-week gestation; this more restrictive legislation was widely seen as a harbinger of things to come. To assess the impact of evolving abortion restrictions on genetic counseling practice and patient care, we conducted semistructured interviews with 34 GCs practicing in states characterized as hostile to abortion using standards developed by the Guttmacher Institute and analyzed using Dedoose software. All interviews took place prior to the June 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Our qualitative study offered some support for earlier work, suggesting that time pressure created by gestational age limits and the potential need for patients to travel out of state for abortion care was the most significant impact on GC practice. However, GCs practicing in Texas and other highly restrictive states were more likely to report that legal uncertainty had a greater impact, often affecting their ability to counsel patients. GCs in Texas also emphasized that institutional guidance was helpful and that a lack of institutional guidance hindered patient care. With the Supreme Court decision in June 2022 overturning the right to abortion established under Roe v. Wade, many more GCs are likely to practice in states where abortion is restricted or banned. Our study suggests that impediments to counseling may be underappreciated in the changing landscape of abortion law.
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