Late termination of pregnancy for lethal fetal anomalies: a national survey of maternal-fetal medicine specialists

Jacobs AR

Dean G

Wasenda EJ

Porsch LM

Moshier EL

Luthy DA

Paul ME

Jan 2015


The objective was to ascertain the practices and opinions of US maternal-fetal medicine specialists regarding termination of pregnancy as a management option following late diagnosis of lethal fetal anomalies.


We conducted a cross-sectional mail survey of all US members of the Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine to ascertain how they manage pregnancies diagnosed with lethal fetal anomalies after 24 weeks of gestation. We analyzed the proportion of respondents that discuss termination of pregnancy as a management option, barriers to offering or accessing late termination services, and respondents' opinions about what anomalies are lethal and when pregnancy termination should be permitted.


The response rate was 41% (869/2119). Nearly all (93%) respondents discuss delivery near term or when complications arise, while 75% discuss the option of termination of pregnancy soon after the diagnosis of lethal fetal anomalies. Only 52% of the physicians indicated that their patients could obtain termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks at their affiliated medical centers or through providers within 50 miles. Real or perceived legal restrictions represented the most common reason for lack of local services. The proportion of respondents that felt strongly or very strongly that termination of pregnancy should be allowed was 76% for lethal anomalies and 58% for anomalies likely to result in significant long-term impairment.


Although limited by a modest response rate, our study found that physicians do not consistently discuss immediate termination of pregnancy as an option following late diagnosis of lethal fetal anomalies, and they face numerous barriers to providing these services.


This national survey supports the need for improved services for pregnant women who desire later termination of pregnancy following diagnosis of serious fetal anomalies. Helpful efforts might include educating physicians about the laws and regulations governing late termination of pregnancy, forging more consistent standards of care, and improving collaboration between MFM specialists and family planning providers to enhance access to care.