State-Level Variation in Abortion Stigma and Women and Men’s Abortion Underreporting in the USA

Isaac Maddow-Zimet, Guttmacher Institute Laura D. Lindberg, Rutgers School of Public Health Kate Castle

First published on Population Research and Policy Review:

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Abstract / Summary

Abortion is highly stigmatized in most settings and severely underreported in demographic surveys. In the USA, variation in the context of abortion between states may influence respondents’ exposure to abortion stigma and create geographic variation in their likelihood of disclosing abortion in surveys. We used restricted geographic data from the 2006–2010 and 2011–2015 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) to investigate the association between abortion reporting in the USA and state-level structural factors that may influence respondents’ experience of abortion stigma. At the aggregate level, we compared the weighted number of abortions women reported in the NSFG to abortion counts derived from abortion provider censuses and test for variation in underreporting by state-level structural measures. At the individual level, we tested if state-level structural factors were associated with less reporting of abortion in the face-to-face (FTF) survey mode than the more confidential audio computer-assisted self-interviewing mode (ACASI) of the NSFG. We found that at the aggregate level, there were no differences in reporting by the state-level measures. At the individual level, about 40% of women and men who reported an abortion in their ACASI did not fully report in the FTF interview; however, there were few differences by any state-level factors. This study documents that abortion stigma plagues the quality of reporting in the USA for both women and men, regardless of which state they live in. Survey improvements to reduce abortion underreporting are needed.


United States