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CONTEXT: Despite calls to make family planning services more responsive to the values, needs and preferences of clients, few studies have asked clients about their experiences or values, and most have used surveys framed by researchers', rather than clients', perspectives.

METHODS: Forty in-depth interviews exploring lifetime experiences with and values regarding services were conducted with 18–36-year-old women who visited family planning clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. Women were categorized as black, white, English- or Spanish-speaking Latina, or of mixed ethnicity to allow examination of differences by racial, ethnic and language group. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and coded thematically; matrices were then used to compare the themes that emerged across the subgroups.

RESULTS: Eight themes emerged as important to women's views of services: service accessibility, information provision, attention to client comfort, providers' personalization of care, service organization, providers' empathy, technical quality of care and providers' respect for women's autonomy. Women reported that it was important to feel comfortable during visits, to feel that their decision-making autonomy was respected, to have providers show empathy and be nonjudgmental, and to see the same provider across visits. The only notable difference among racial, ethnic and language groups was that Spanish-speaking Latinas wanted to receive language-appropriate care and contraceptive information.

CONCLUSIONS: Future surveys of family planning service quality should include measures of the factors that women value in such care, and efforts to improve providers' communication and counseling skills should emphasize the personalization of services and respect for clients' autonomy.