Imagined futures: How experiential knowledge of disability affects parents' decision making about fetal abnormality

EF France, L Locock, K Hunt, S Ziebland, K Field, S Wyke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Background Knowledge of disability is considered key information to enable informed antenatal screening decisions by expectant parents. However, little is known about the role of experiential knowledge of disability in decisions to terminate or continue with a pregnancy diagnosed with a fetal abnormality. Objective To explore the role that expectant parents' experiential knowledge of disabilities and conditions can play in real-life decisions to continue or end a pregnancy with a fetal abnormality. Design Secondary analysis of qualitative narrative interview data informed by contextual systems framework. Setting Participants were recruited throughout the United Kingdom and interviewed between 2004 and 2006. Participants Twenty-four women and four of their male partners who had direct or indirect experience of disability or illness and who had proceeded with or ended a pregnancy diagnosed with a fetal abnormality. Findings Most respondents recounted using their experiential knowledge of disability, whether of their unborn baby's condition or of a different condition, to try to imagine the future for their unborn child, themselves and their family when making their decision. Some, who were considering continuing their pregnancy and had little or no experience of their unborn baby's specific disability, sought out others' experiences of the condition following antenatal diagnosis.The nature of a parent's experiential knowledge did not predict whether they continued with or terminated their pregnancy. Discussion Prospective parents may find it helpful to discuss their existing knowledge of their unborn baby's condition with health professionals who are aware of the influence this might have on parents' decisions. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-156
Number of pages18
JournalHealth Expectations
Early online date30 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

We warmly thank the interview participants, the Oxford health experiences research team, Francie Smee and two anonymous reviewers. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS,the National Institute for Health Research Service (NIHR), or the Department of Health.


  • abortion
  • decision making
  • disability
  • fetal abnormality
  • prenatal diagnosis
  • termination


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