Charting the terrain of abortion information online
Awarded 2010
Small Research Grants
Katrina Kimport, PhD
University of California, San Francisco

Background: The web is an increasingly popular avenue for information gathering and political claims-making. To date, there has been no comprehensive investigation of online content about abortion. Recent research on Internet usage finds that women—and particularly users between 18 and 49, women’s reproductive years—regularly seek health information online, and search for information on abortion in specific. We know little about what information on abortion is available online and about who is making claims about abortion online and what kinds of claims (supportive or oppositional) they are making. Methodology: A random sample of websites discussing abortion collected as part of a large dataset of online activism was quantitatively content coded for the presence of informational and/or education material, political claims about abortion, and type of website (organizational or non-organizational). Statistical analyses were performed using STATE SE11. Findings: In this dataset, claims-making about abortion is fairly common, but informational and/or educational information is rare. Few sites contained factual content on abortion and nearly none do so without accompanying political claims. In addition, while political discussion on the topic of abortion was well-represented, the twin positions on abortion (for and against) were not equally represented. Across the dataset, there was a higher representation of anti-abortion claims than of abortion rights claims. Finally, I find that the primary claims-makers for abortion rights were organizationally-run sites, while non-organizational sites were the dominant anti-abortion claims-makers. Conclusions: A notably larger quantity of claims about abortion, particularly those forwarded by individual activists, are anti-abortion. This may be a lingering effect of the abortion rights movement’s offline professionalization. The dearth of informational and/or educational material about abortion as a procedure in this dataset may be a factor of the data collection strategy. Research Implications: These findings can inform the work of family planning advocates, particularly in their thinking about mobilization on behalf of the abortion rights cause both online and off. This study can further inform providers about the volume of anti-abortion claims-making women may find when they search for information on abortion online. New Directions: These analyses suggest that a different data collection strategy is required to capture websites the provide information about abortion as a procedure. I developed a revised methodology and coding tool to address this question.