Interpreting the Truth: How People Make Sense of New Information about Abortion

  • Katrina Kimport
    Correspondence to: Katrina Kimport, PhD, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), University of California, San Francisco, 1330 Broadway, Suite 1100 Oakland, CA 94612. Phone: (510) 986-8947; fax: (510)-986-8960.
    Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), University of California, San Francisco, Oakland, California
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  • Colin Doty
    Bachelor's Degree for Professionals Program, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California
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Published:February 27, 2019DOI:



      In July 2015, the antiabortion Center for Medical Progress released a covertly filmed video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing the dispensation of postabortion remains for research, a practice the general public was not familiar with. Research shows that people use preexisting frameworks (such as support for or opposition to abortion rights) to make sense of new information. We examine the presence and use of abortion-related movement heuristics, language, and framing in the lay public's engagement with this video and their response to it.


      Using modified grounded theory, we analyzed user comments on five online news articles about the video, drawn from sources representing different segments of the spectrum of support for abortion rights, to serve as a proxy for the public conversation.


      Commenters used language and framing consistent with the abortion rights and antiabortion social movements to debate basic information about this practice (i.e., the language of “fetal tissue” vs “baby parts” and whether the abortion provider profited from the exchange). Discussion of the abortion provider's casual demeanor, however, did not always use movement language and association consistently, with some commenters demonstrating inconsistency between their support for abortion and response to the video.


      Online commenters largely used language consistent with the contemporary abortion movements’ ideological frames in their engagement about the video. The presence of this language suggests that people may draw on existing frameworks about abortion when they engage with abortion-related information, which could have implications for efforts to address abortion misinformation.
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      Katrina Kimport, PhD, is associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences and research sociologist in the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program of the University of California, San Francisco. Her research focuses on gender, reproduction, and social movements.


      Colin Doty, PhD, teaches Communication at California Lutheran University. His work focuses on misinformation and how people formulate beliefs about health-related issues, including vaccines and abortion.