Study Explored What Happens When Abortions Are Denied

Among other things, women tended to end up in tougher financial straits, according to Turnaway Study
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2022 1:43 PM CDT
Landmark Study Assessed Impact on Abortion 'Turnaways'
Protesters at a reproductive rights rally at the Joe Chillura Courthouse Square May 3 in Tampa, Fla.   (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

(Newser) – In a 2007 abortion case, then-Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice. … Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.” Per NPR, those words caught demographer Diana Greene Foster’s attention and helped inspire the Turnaway Study, a longitudinal examination of the effects of unwanted pregnancies on women. Foster and her team at UC San Francisco tracked long-term economic and health outcomes of 1,000 women, comparing those who had received abortions to those who had been turned away. Results in 2016 showed the opposite of Kennedy’s speculation: although women on both sides of the study experienced a full range of emotions initially, things leveled off over time.

“This idea that somehow this event is disrupting people's lives forever—that is not accurate for the vast majority of people,” Foster tells NPR, which revisits the study in the wake of the pending Roe v. Wade decision. Differences in mental health outcomes between the groups did not loom large, but there were acute differences in physical health. Pregnancy is risky and can lead to long-term medical issues, not to mention death—two study participants died as a result of their pregnancies. Financial outcomes were especially dire for “turnaways.” Overall, they were far likelier to be unemployed, in poverty, and on public assistance. Additionally, 10 years of credit reports showed women denied abortions were “significantly more likely to miss bill payments or have other black marks on their credit reports,” like evictions and bankruptcies, according to the Washington Post.

Children’s outcomes provide additional insight. Some 60% of women seeking abortions were already parents. Adding an unwanted child meant the whole family faced deeper poverty and children were less likely to achieve key developmental milestones. By contrast, Foster tells Scientific American, “Many people who have abortions want to have children later, under better circumstances. And when they do … we see those babies do better than children born because their mom was denied an abortion, in terms of the mom’s emotional bond with the child [and] the kids’ economic well-being.” (Read more abortion rights stories.)

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