Are women who have abortions different from those who do not? A secondary analysis of the 1990 national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles

Public Health. 1998 May;112(3):157-63. doi: 10.1016/s0033-3506(98)00221-2.


Studies of women undergoing termination of a pregnancy are often used to make recommendations about family planning and health education policy. However, it is not clear how similar the women in these studies are to the general population of women of childbearing age. Our secondary analysis of the National Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles Survey allowed us to test the hypothesis that women who have undergone an abortion are the same as those who have not (in terms of socio-demographic characteristics, lifestyles, and attitudes). Our findings show significant differences between these two groups of women, particularly regarding ethnicity, marital status, number of natural children, lifetime number of sexual partners, and attitudes to abortion. We conclude that family planning/reproductive health services and health education policies need to take these differences into account and that further research is required to explain why these differences arise.

PIP: The null hypothesis that women who have undergone induced abortion do not differ from their counterparts who do not have an abortion history in terms of sociodemographic characteristics, sexual attitudes, and lifestyles was investigated in a secondary analysis of data from the 1990 UK National Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles Survey. Included in the analysis were 5576 ever sexually active women 16-39 years of age, 807 (15%) of whom reported at least one abortion. In multifactorial analysis, non-Christian religion, single marital status, and heavy smoking were associated with a 1.5- to 2.0-fold increased risk of induced abortion after adjustment for other factors. Black or Asian ethnicity, having 4 or more children, having had 10 or more sexual partners, being of age 17 years or younger at first intercourse, and believing abortion is rarely wrong or not wrong were all associated with 3- to 4-fold increases in abortion likelihood. The model predicted 86% of abortion cases correctly. Although contraceptive usage was high in both groups, women with an abortion history were more likely to be users of less effective methods (e.g., withdrawal and safe period). Family planning/reproductive health programs should consider the differences between women who have abortions and those who do not in health education and program planning.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Legal / psychology*
  • Abortion, Legal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Life Style* / ethnology
  • Logistic Models
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Parity
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care* / ethnology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care* / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom