Thursday, September 25, 2014

Public Opinion Survey Asks: Does the Word 'Fetus' or 'Baby' Make a Difference?

Time for another abstract. This one is from the Public Opinion Quarterly:

At intervals since 1990, the General Social Survey (GSS) has asked a series of four questions inquiring into knowledge of genetic testing and attitudes toward prenatal testing and abortion, most recently in 2010. The questions about prenatal testing and abortion were framed in terms of “baby”. But in the current anti-abortion climate, it seemed possible that the word “fetus” would carry more abstract, impersonal connotations than “baby” and might therefore lead to different responses, especially in the case of abortion. To resolve this issue, we designed the question-wording experiment reported in this research note. We found no significant differences by question wording for abortion preferences in the sample as a whole and small but significant differences for prenatal testing, in a direction opposite to that expected. However, question wording did make substantial differences in the responses of some demographic subgroups.

I'm just sorry I don't have access to the original study.

Personally, I use baby and fetus interchangeably and often unconsciously. Sometimes, in the course of an abortion debate, abortion supporters will object to my use of the word "baby". Of course, on twitter (where I often debate) character space is at a premium, so I sometimes go for "baby" to make my message under 140 characters.

"Baby" is what normal people call a fetus, when nobody's thinking of abortion.

Eleanor Singer* and Mick P. Couper
The Effect of Question Wording on Attitudes toward Prenatal Testing and Abortion
Public Opin Q (2014)
doi: 10.1093/poq/nfu028
First published online: September 20, 2014