Addressing Moral Distress After Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization : A Professional Virtues-Based Approach.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Academic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges


washington; swedish


The June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abolished federal protections for reproductive choice. In states where subsequent legislation has restricted or banned access to abortion services, physicians and trainees are prevented from providing ethically justified evidence-based care when patients with previable pregnancies are seeking an abortion. Pregnant patients' vulnerabilities, stress, and the undue burden that they experience when prevented from acting in accordance with their reproductive decision making can evoke negative emotional consequences, including moral distress in clinicians. Moral distress occurs when clinicians feel a moral compulsion to act a certain way but cannot do so because of external constraints, including being hindered by state laws that curtail practicing in line with professional standards on reproductive health care. Moral distress has the potential to subvert prudent clinical judgment. The authors provide a recommendations for managing moral distress in these circumstances based in the professional virtues. The fundamental professional virtues of integrity, compassion, self-effacement, self-sacrifice, and humility inform the management of moral distress and how to respond thoughtfully and compassionately, and without over-identification or indifference to the plight of patients denied abortions. The authors also discuss the role of academic leaders and medical educators in cultivating a virtues-based professional culture at the forefront of clinical and educational processes in a post- Dobbs world.

Clinical Institute

Women & Children

Clinical Institute

Mental Health


Obstetrics & Gynecology


Behavioral Health