Abortion Attitudes (Media Content, User Comments)





abortion, activism, attitudes, feminism, reproductive health, reproductive rights


The concept of "abortion attitudes" refers to an individual's or group's beliefs, opinions, and feelings regarding the practice of abortion (Jelen & Wilcox, 2003). Abortion here addresses abortion care in the form of medical (i.e., drug-induced) or surgical termination of an unwanted pregnancy, usually before the fetus is considered viable (i.e., able to survive outside the womb). People's attitudes towards abortion care can vary widely and are influenced by factors such as cultural, religious, moral, and personal beliefs, societal norms and values, as well as personal experiences and media representations (Adamczyk, Kim & Dillon, 2020; Ferree, Gamson, Gerhards & Rucht, 2002). Abortion and abortion attitudes are widely represented in the media, this includes news media, fictional media, and social media (Conti & Cahill, 2017).

Attitudes towards abortion as they are held in the population and represented in the media are polarized and can be categorized broadly as pro-choice versus pro-life (Krolzik-Matthei, 2019):

  • The pro-choice or pro-abortion attitude focuses on the pregnant woman/person and acknowledges her human rights to life, health and self-determination. Hence, the pro-choice attitude demands access to legal and safe abortions as a reproductive right for all women/persons who seek abortion care as a reproductive health service. The pro-choice position morally accepts abortions and politically favors the legalization of abortions.
  • The pro-life or anti-abortion attitude focuses on the embryo (weeks 0 to 9 of the pregnancy) or the fetus (from week 10) and acknowledges its right to life. Hence, the pro-life attitude demands complete prohibition or at least heavy restriction of abortions, regardless of the life, health, and self-determination of the pregnant woman/person. The pro-life position morally condemns abortions and politically favors the criminalization of abortions in most or all cases.

These two attitudes often manifest as general principles (or absolutist positions). But they also manifest in various shades of grey (situational positions), with some individuals and media representations supporting abortion under specific circumstances (such as cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities) while opposing it in others (Rye & Underhill, 2020).

In the context of ongoing political debates surrounding the legalization or criminalization of abortion (e.g., the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the USA in 2022), measuring attitudes towards abortion in media content remains a relevant and timely research topic, especially when it comes to popular and growing social media platforms such as TikTok (Wu & Byler, 2022).


Field of application/theoretical foundation

One line of research investigates the various values underlying pro-life/pro-abortion and pro-choice/anti-abortion attitudes as represented in different media. This research approach employs theories from religion, moral philosophy, medical history, and/or feminism to extract the distinct arguments, frames, and metaphors used to defend and rationalize pro-choice versus pro-life attitudes (e.g., Brysk & Yang, 2023).

Another line of research examines the associations between media representations of abortion attitudes on the one side and the audience’s attitudes about abortion on the other side (Döring, 2023; Döring & Kubitza, 2023; Pleasure et al., 2023), particularly in the context of pro- or anti-abortion campaigns (e.g., Reidy & Suiter, 2023) and online abortion education (Duggan, 2023). One relevant theory in this field is the social cognitive theory (Bandura 1986, 2009), which explains how media images of abortion can influence the audience’s perceptions of abortions. Additionally, theories of persuasion and education are applicable in this context.


References/combination with other methods of data collection

Manual and automated content analyses of news media, fictional media, social media content, and social media user comments are essential for monitoring the potentially changing prevalence of various abortion attitudes in the public media sphere. These media content analyses can be combined with population surveys to explore associations between published opinion and public opinion on abortion. Furthermore, experimental studies are useful for directly measuring how recipients perceive and evaluate different media representations of abortion attitudes, and whether and how these representations can affect their own attitudes toward abortion.


Example Study for manual content analyses

The example studies by Döring (2023) and Döring and Kubitza (2023) concentrate on the representation of abortion attitudes in German-language YouTube and TikTok videos, as well as the associated viewer comments (see Table 1).

The measures presented were developed for YouTube and TikTok, but they are generic enough to be used across various social media platforms and even mass media channels.

Depending on the research objective, more detailed measures can be developed and added. For examples, measures that cover the different circumstances under which people or media representations are willing to accept abortion as a moral and legal solution (such as in cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities). This is relevant because abortion attitudes held by individuals and represented in the media are not always absolutist (i.e., categorical evaluations); sometimes, they are situationist, meaning that the specific conditions of the case play a significant role in the moral evaluation (Rye & Underhill, 2020).


Coding Material


Operationalization (excerpt)


N = 167 top ranked German-language abortion videos on YouTube (n =  75) and TikTok (n = 92)


Type of Social Media Content Creator

Polytomous variable “content creator type” (1: media professional, 2: health professional, 3: political/religious actor, 4: lay person)


n = 117 pretest sample

Cohen’s Kappa = .84

Gwet’s AC1 = .88


Abortion Attitude in Social Media Content

Polytomous variable “abortion attitude represented in YouTube/TikTok video” (1: pro-choice or pro-abortion [video predominantly argues in favor of legalization of abortion and/or the rights of the pregnant person], 2: pro-life or anti-abortion [video predominantly argues in favor of criminalization of abortion and/or the rights of the embryo/fetus], 3: ambivalent [video partly argues in favor of both pro-choice and pro-life positions; e.g., video covers both the attitude of a pro-life and a pro-choice activist], 4: neutral [video neither argues for or against the legalization or criminalization of abortions; e.g., video explains the procedure of surgical termination of an unwanted pregnancy and does not address moral or political evaluations], 5: unclear [the abortion attitude represented in the video remains unclear])


n = 117 pretest sample

Cohen’s Kappa = .66

Gwet’s AC1 = .82

N = 807 most liked on-topic public user comments related to the N = 167 top ranked German-language abortion videos on YouTube (n = 326) and TikTok (n = 481)


Type of Commenting Social Media User

Cannot be identified and coded due to practical and ethical considerations




Abortion Attitude in Social Media User Comments

Polytomous variable “abortion attitude represented in YouTube/TikTok user comments” (1: pro-choice / pro-abortion, 2: pro-life / anti-abortion, 3: ambivalent, 4: neutral, 5: unclear). Operationalization of the abortion attitudes in social media comments follows the same scheme used for social media videos (as described above).


n = 300 pretest sample

Cohen’s Kappa = .55

Gwet’s AC1 = .81



Adamczyk, A., Kim, C., & Dillon (2020). Examining Public Opinion about Abortion: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review of Research over the Last 15 Years. Sociological Inquiry, 90 (4), 920–954. https://doi.org/10.1111/soin.12351

Bandura, A., & National Inst. of Mental Health. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Bandura, A. (2009). Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication. In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), Communication Series. Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research (3rd ed., 94–124). Routledge.

Brysk, A., & Yang R. (2023). Abortion Rights Attitudes in Europe: Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, or Pro-Nation? Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society. https://doi.org/10.1093/sp/jxac047

Conti, J. A., & Cahill, E. (2017). Abortion in the Media. Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 29 (6), 427–430. https://doi.org/10.1097/GCO.0000000000000412

Döring, N., (2023). Online-Videos zum Schwangerschaftsabbruch: Anbieter, Botschaften und Publikumsreaktionen [Online Videos on Abortion: Creators, Messages, and Audience Reactions]. FORUM Sexualaufklärung und Familienplanung: Informationsdienst der Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung (BZgA) 1/2023, 41-47. https://doi.org/10.17623/BZgA_SRH:forum_2023-1_beitrag_onlinevideo_schwangerschaftsabbruch [Zugriff: 11.10.2023]

Döring, N., & Kubitza, E. (2023). „Ich fühlte mich so alleine damit, aber dein Video hat mir geholfen – Der Schwangerschaftsabbruch auf YouTube und TikTok. ["I felt so alone with this, but your video helped me” – The Representation of Abortion on YouTube and TikTok]. merz – medien + erziehung. zeitschrift für medienpädagogik, Online Article. https://www.merz-zeitschrift.de/swipe-des-monats/details/ich-fuehlte-mich-so-alleine-damit-aber-dein-video-hat-mir-geholfen [Zugriff: 11.10.2023]

Duggan, J. (2023). Using TikTok to Teach about Abortion: Combatting Stigma and Miseducation in the United States and Beyond. Sex Education 23(1), 81-95. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2022.2028614

Ferree, M.M., Gamson, W.A., Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (2002). Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge University Press.

Jelen, T. G., & Wilcox, C. (2003). Causes and Consequences of Public Attitudes Toward Abortion: A Review and Research Agenda. Political Research Quarterly, 56 (4), 489–500. https://doi.org/10.1177/106591290305600410

Krolzik-Matthei, K. (2019). Abtreibungen in der Debatte in Deutschland und Europa [Abortions in the Debate in Germany and Europe]. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Hrsg.), Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (APuZ). https://www.bpb.de/shop/zeitschriften/apuz/290793/abtreibungen-in-der-debatte-in-deutschland-und-europa/ [Zugriff: 11.10.2023]

Pleasure, Z. H., Becker, A., Johnson, D., Broussard, K., & Lindberg, L. (2023). How TikTok is Being Used to Talk About Abortion Post-Roe. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/jy6vx [Zugriff: 11.10.2023]

Reidy, T., & Suiter, J. (2023). Does Social Media Use Matter? A Case Study of the 2018 Irish Abortion Referendum. Media and Communication, 11 (1), 81–85. https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v11i1.6653

Rye, B.J., & Underhill, A. (2020). Pro-choice and Pro-life Are Not Enough: An Investigation of Abortion Attitudes as a Function of Abortion Prototypes. Sexuality & Culture 24, 1829–1851. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-020-09723-7

Wu, Y. & Byler, D. (2022). What We Found When Analyzing 1,000 Viral TikToks on #Abortion. The Washington Post, 22th October 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/interactive/2022/tiktok-abortion-debate-gen-z/ [Zugriff: 11.10.2023]


Funding: This entry was created as part of a larger research project lead by the author on the representation of sexual and reproductive health issues on social media, led by the author and funded by the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) from 2023 to 2026. The name of the project is EMSA (“Erstes Mal, Menstruation und Schwangerschaftsabbruch in Sozialen Medien” = sexual debut, menstruation, and abortion on social media).



How to Cite

Döring, N. (2023). Abortion Attitudes (Media Content, User Comments). DOCA - Database of Variables for Content Analysis, 1(5). https://doi.org/10.34778/5y



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