Incomplete Abortion Reporting in British and American Surveys: Pathways for Improvements


Lindberg, Laura & Scott, Rachel (2019). Incomplete Abortion Reporting in British and American Surveys: Pathways for Improvements.


Despite its frequency and legality, abortion remains a sensitive, stigmatized and difficult-to-measure behaviour. In both Britain and the United States, abortion reporting by survey respondents is incomplete as compared to administrative surveillance counts. However, abortion under-reporting is larger in the US than Britain in some surveys, where women report only about 30% of their abortions, as compared withabout 70% in Britain. This analysis examines survey and contextual influences on abortion under-reporting in the US and Britain with the objective of informing efforts to understand and improve reporting. First, we examine differences in study and questionnaire design in the British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles and the US National Survey of Family Growth, National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, to identify measurement approaches that might influence reporting.Second, we consider how the demographic distribution of individuals obtaining abortions may influence reporting across countries. Third, we synthesize and compare across settings direct and indirect measures of country-specific abortion stigma, including laws, social attitudes, and prior in-depth studies of stigma. Abortion question designs related to recall length and survey placement appear to influence the cross-national patterns of under-reporting. Also important appear to be the greater legal restrictions, negative social attitudes about abortion, and more conservative religious ideology in the US than Britain. Improvements in survey design are necessary to increase abortion reporting. However, greater efforts are also needed to understand and reduce stigma even in legal settings, including cross-nationally.



Reference Type

Conference paper

Book Title

British Society for the Philosphy of Science


Lindberg, Laura
Scott, Rachel

Year Published


City of Publication

Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales

Reference ID