Originally published in 1986, Abortion and the Private Practice of Medicine was the first book to look at abortion from the perspective of physicians in private practice. Jonathan B. Imber spent two years observing and interviewing all twenty-six of the obstetrician-gynecologists in "Daleton", a city that did not have an abortion clinic. The decision as to whether, when, and how to perform abortions was therefore essentially up to the individual doctor. Imber begins the volume with a historical survey of medical views on abortion and the medical profession's response to the legalization of abortion in the United States. Quoting extensively from his interviews, he looks at various characteristics of doctors that may affect their professional opinion on abortion: their age, gender, religious background, and length of residence in the community; the nature of their training and prior experience; and the setting of the practice (whether group or solo). Imber found that the physicians' reasons for agreeing or refusing to perform abortions revealed considerable differences of opinion about how they construe their responsibilities.
Imber shows that many of the physicians he interviewed were deeply ambivalent about abortion, approving in general of a woman's right to an abortion but not wishing to perform it themselves. He argues that until abortion loses its status as a morally and politically controversial matter, it will remain the doctor's dilemma. A new introduction and epilogue by the author updates this enduring controversy. He also gives a personal account of the dilemmas of writing about controversial matters as a sociologist.