Abortion myths: findings of an online survey

Souvik Pyne
This article was first published on The ASAP Blog

A myth is a widely held but false idea or belief. Abortion myths hurt women and often obscure important facts related to abortion. They further lead to deepening the stigma around abortion. This unscientific and deceptive misinformation greatly deters provision of and access to safe and legal abortion services.

In order to gauge the presence of some common abortion myths among netizens and their perceptions about abortion, we (ASAP) conducted a small online survey. A questionnaire with 10 abortion myth statements was created using Google forms. The survey was launched on 31st July 2016 and was closed on 3rd September 2016. The link of the survey was promoted through Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP) webpage, ASAP’s social media profiles and in personal networks of few of our youth champions. It yielded 257 responses. Weighted scoring of ‘2’, ‘1’ and ‘0’ was done for ‘False’, ‘Don’t know’ and ‘True’ response respectively to each of the myth statements and a total score was calculated for each respondent. So, the score could vary from 0 to 20.

Participation was purely voluntary and there was higher proportion of females (77.8%) over males (22.2%) and majority (77.8%) were Indians. Mean score of females (15.02) was higher than males (11.65) and of atheists (16.9) higher than those with any religion individually or even combined together (13.23). Mean score increased with the increase of educational level of the respondents that gives cues better education and information may help in removing the prevalent myths. 

The myths of ‘mandatory parental consent in case of teenage abortion’ and ‘contraception eliminates the need of abortion’ were the most prevailing while ‘abortion is only done due to gender biased sex selection to eliminate the unwanted female foetus’ was the least existing. Only 8.5% of the respondents could identify all the statements as myths. The myth of ‘Abortion is illegal in India’ was considered true by 22% of the Indian respondents and this is the scenario even after 45 years of legalization of safe abortion in India.

Responses to the open-ended question of ‘Thoughts on abortion’ were analysed and categorized into three overarching stances: ‘supportive’, ‘conditional’, and ‘opposing’. Those who believed abortion as right of a woman were labelled ‘supportive’; those who considered abortion provision under selected conditions were labelled ‘conditional’ and those who were against abortion were labelled ‘opposing’. Both the proportion and mean score of each category were in descending order, which hums a positive story.
The survey reiterated the pervasiveness of abortion related myths. Though many had positive attitude towards abortion, myths still prevailed largely. All these were in spite of the inherent limitation of ‘self-selection’ bias in this study. Thus, there is a pressing need to spread evidence based abortion related awareness in order to thwart the perpetuating myths around this important public health as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights issue. We believe with concerted efforts this can be made possible.

Souvik Pyne is the Coordinator - Advocacy at The YP Foundation.