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“Technically an abortion”: Understanding perceptions and definitions of abortion in the United States

Alicia VandeVusse, Guttmacher Institute Jennifer Mueller, Guttmacher Institute Marielle Kirstein, Guttmacher Institute Joe Strong, London School of Economics and Political Science Laura D. Lindberg, Rutgers School of Public Health

First published on Social Science and Medicine:

| DOI:
Abstract / Summary

Anti-abortion legislation in the United States exploits misinformation and ignores medical definitions to curtail access to essential healthcare. Little is known about how individuals most likely to need this care define abortion, in general or as distinct from miscarriage, and how this might impact access to, utilization of, and experiences of care. Using mixed-method card sort and vignette data from cognitive interviews (n = 64) and a national online survey (n = 2009), we examined individuals’ understandings of pregnancy outcomes including abortion and miscarriage.

Our findings show that people hold varying ideas of what constitutes an abortion. Many respondents considered ‘intent’ when classifying pregnancy outcomes and focused on intervention to distinguish between miscarriages and abortions. Particularly, medical intervention was found as a defining feature of abortion. Lack of knowledge regarding pregnancy experiences and ambiguity surrounding early stages of pregnancy also influenced respondents' understanding of abortion.

We find that abortion and miscarriage definitions are socially constructed and multi-layered. Advancing our understanding of abortion and miscarriage definitions improves reproductive health research by elucidating potential areas of confusion that may lead to misreporting of reproductive experiences as well as highlighting ways that blurred definitions may be exploited by abortion opponents.


United States