Relying on surveys to understand abortion behavior: some cautionary evidence

Am J Public Health. 2001 Nov;91(11):1825-31. doi: 10.2105/ajph.91.11.1825.


Objectives: The reliability of abortion self-reports has raised questions about the general usefulness of surveys in research about abortion behavior; however, the extent of underreporting remains a subject of some debate. This study sought to examine abortion reporting in a sample of welfare mothers and to determine factors in underreporting.

Methods: In New Jersey, which covers abortions requested by welfare recipients under its Medicaid program, the responses of a randomly drawn sample of 1236 welfare mothers about abortion events were compared with the Medicaid claims records of these women.

Results: Only 29% of actual abortions were self-reported by the women in the sample. This finding varied dramatically by race, with substantially higher rates of underreporting by Blacks than by Whites or Hispanics.

Conclusions: Although race is the most consistent predictor of underreporting behavior, attitudinal factors and survey technology also help in explaining abortion reporting behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Legal / psychology
  • Abortion, Legal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys*
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Maternal Welfare / ethnology
  • Maternal Welfare / statistics & numerical data
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data
  • Motivation
  • New Jersey / epidemiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self Disclosure*
  • White People / psychology