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Comparing reporting of abortions in three nationally representative surveys: methodological and contextual influences
  1. Rachel H Scott1,
  2. Nathalie Bajos2,
  3. Kaye Wellings3,
  4. Emma Slaymaker1
  1. 1 Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2 CESP-U1018 Genre, sexualité, santé, Inserm, Paris, France
  3. 3 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rachel H Scott, Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London WC1E 7HT, UK; rachel.scott{at}


Background Abortions are known to be underreported in surveys. Previous research has found a number of ways in which survey methodology may affect respondents’ willingness to disclose abortions. The social and political climate surrounding abortion may also create stigma affecting abortion reporting, and this may vary between countries and over time.

Methods We estimate the extent of underreporting in three nationally representative population surveys by comparing survey rates with routine statistics, in order to explore the ways in which survey methodology and cultural context might influence reporting of abortion. Data are analysed from two National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, conducted in 2000 and 2010 (Natsal-2 and Natsal-3) in Britain, and the Fertility, Contraception and Sexual Dysfunction survey (FECOND) conducted in 2010 in France. The three surveys differ with regard to survey methodology and context.

Results There was no strong evidence of underreporting in Natsal-2, which collected data on abortion using a direct question. There was evidence of underreporting in Natsal-3 and FECOND, both of which collected data on abortion through a pregnancy-history module. There was no evidence of a difference in the extent of underreporting between Natsal-3 and FECOND, which differed with regard to survey methodology (self-administered module in Natsal-3, telephone interview in FECOND) and country context.

Conclusion A direct question may be more effective in eliciting reports of abortion than a pregnancy-history module.

  • surveys
  • abortion
  • methodology
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  • Contributors RHS analysed the data and drafted successive versions of the article. ES advised with data analysis. All authors interpreted the data, edited drafts and approved the final version of the article.

  • Funding Natsal-3 is a collaboration between University College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, NatCen social research, the Health Protection Agency, and the University of Manchester. The study was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council [G0701757]; and the Wellcome Trust [084840]; with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council and Department of Health. The FECOND team is made up of: N Bajos and C Moreau (principal investigators), A Bohet (coordinator), A Andro, L Aussel, J Bouyer, G Charrance, C Debest, D Dinova, D Hassoun, M Le Guen, S Legleye, E Marsicano, M Mazuy, E Moreau, H Panjo, N Razafindratsima, A Régnier-Loilier, V Ringa, E de La Rochebrochard, V Rozée, M Teboul, L Toulemon and C Ventola. The FECOND survey was funded by the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the French National Institute for Demographic Research (INED). RHS was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval for Natsal-2 was obtained from University College Hospital, North Thames Multicentre, and all local research ethics committees in Britain, and for Natsal-3 from the Oxford Research Ethics Committee A. The FECOND study was approved by the relevant French government oversight agency (the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) [n°909024].

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available.

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