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Fam Plann Perspect. 1997 Jul-Aug;29(4):177-80.

The measurement of public opinion on abortion: the effects of survey design.

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1
Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Abstract

A factorial experiment examined the effects of the wording and sequence of survey questions on the measurement of attitudes toward abortion. When a first-trimester pregnancy is specified, 55% of respondents agree that a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion for any reason, compared with 44% when no pregnancy duration is stated. Specifying first-trimester pregnancies has little effect on the proportion of respondents who agree that abortion should be available for maternal health, fetal defects or rape, but it significantly increases the proportion who agree that a woman should be able to obtain an abortion if she is single, has financial constraints or wants no more children. When gestational lengths from one to six months are presented to respondents in ascending order, agreement that a woman should be able to obtain an abortion for any reason is lower for any given length of gestation than when pregnancy durations are presented in descending order. Forty-eight percent of respondents agree that abortion should be legal for any reason when that question is posed after a series of specific reasons; however, 60% do so when it is the first question in the sequence. The difference in agreement with abortion for any reason between Catholics and non-Baptist Protestants, and between Republicans and Democrats, is much smaller when the question is asked first than when it is presented last.

PIP:

Although the proportion of respondents to the US General Social Survey who agreed a woman should be able to obtain an abortion for any reason increased from 34% during 1975-79 to 43% during 1990-94, acceptance of abortion for selected indications (e.g., unmarried, financial constraints) declined. A telephone survey, with a factorial experimental design, of 1216 US households was used to evaluate the effects of: specifying the stage of pregnancy on agreement that legal abortion should be available, and changing where in the question sequence respondents are asked whether abortion should be legal for any reason. As expected, the level of approval for abortion was highly dependent on gestational length, with a rapid drop after the first trimester; 61% supported abortion in the first month of pregnancy, while only 11% agreed a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy of 6 months' duration. When gestational lengths from 1 to 6 months were specified in ascending order, agreement with abortion for any reason was higher than when these lengths were presented in descending order. When a first-trimester abortion was specified, 55% of respondents agreed a woman should be able to terminate her pregnancy for any reason, compared with 44% when no pregnancy duration was specified. Finally, respondents were more likely to believe a woman should be able to obtain an abortion for any reason when this question was asked first, rather than after a series of specific reasons (60% and 48%, respectively).

PMID:
9258650
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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