What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortion? Here Are the Stats

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What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortion? Here Are the Stats
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What happens to women who are denied abortion? The Turnaway Study, which followed nearly 1,000 women over five years, found that abortion does not harm women, and that women who are refused abortion have worse outcomes in the long run, in terms of health, financial stability, and the safety of their children. “Everyone who wants to weigh in on abortion policy should understand what the consequences are,” says Diana Greene Foster, Ph.D., the lead researcher of the Turnaway Study. “And the study is very clear about the consequences.”

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This week marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that found that the right to abortion is protected by the Constitution. Roe may never see a 50th anniversary—it may be overturned or gutted by the Supreme Court in the next year, which will leave individual states to pass their own laws legalizing or banning abortion. In September, Planned Parenthood doctor Bhavik Kumar told Glamour that the day after Texas’s latest abortion restriction law went into effect, he saw three patients who would have qualified for an abortion the day before. What happens to patients like that, if they don’t have the means to seek abortion out of state?

What are the long-term consequences of being forced to carry a baby to term? And what are the consequences—if any—for women who seek abortions and receive them?

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Until recently these conversations were more subject to feelings and fantasy than facts. In 2007 the Supreme Court even held up an abortion ban based on, essentially, guessing women’s feelings. “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion.

Is that really true? Do women who are granted abortions sink into depression, while those who are denied abortions end up happy and grateful? Led by Greene Foster, a professor and researcher at University of California, San Francisco, researchers spent a decade studying this question. The result of the research is the Turnaway Study—the only study of its kind. Researchers recruited nearly 1,000 women who tried to get abortions at 30 different locations in the U.S. Every person in the study was a woman who wanted an abortion, but some received abortions and some were turned away. Often the women who received the abortion came into clinics just days before they would have been denied abortions, whereas women who were denied arrived just days after. Researchers spent five years interviewing the women every six months, conducting just under 8,000 interviews.

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In terms of mental health, “​​The finding is that abortion does not harm women, and that denial of abortion causes short-term harm,” Greene Foster tells Glamour. Over 95% of women who had abortions reported that they made the right decisions. Women who were denied abortion had more negative socioeconomic situations than women who received abortions. “The concept that abortion hurts women is all over billboards,” says Greene Foster. “The concept that denying people agency over their body and making them carry a pregnancy to term when they’re not ready hurts women and children—maybe it’s not pithy enough, but it’s not on billboards yet.”

The next time that you’re in an argument about abortion rights, tell whoever you’re talking to that there’s no need to get emotional. They can simply read the facts.

The claim: Women who have abortions will regret them.

The finding from the Turnaway Study: Over 95% of women who had abortions told researchers both immediately and five years later that they had made the right decisions. These reports were similar in women who had later abortions and women who had abortions in the first trimester. “We find no evidence that abortion causes negative mental health or well-being outcomes,” the Turnaway Study reports. “However, we do find that being denied an abortion is associated with elevated levels of anxiety, stress, and lower self-esteem, soon after abortion denial.” These mental health concerns decreased over six months to a year, researchers found.

The claim: For women who are denied abortions, everything will work out in the end.

The finding from the Turnaway Study: Women who were denied abortions were four times more likely to have a household income below the poverty line. They were three times more likely to be unemployed. They were also more likely to be unable to afford household needs including food. They were also more likely to stay in touch with violent partners.

The claim: Women who have abortions are selfish—they don’t care about children.

The finding from the Turnaway Study: In fact, Greene Foster says, one of the main reasons women gave for seeking abortions was that “they want to take care of their existing children.” Plus, the study found that children of women who had abortions receive “more economic security and better maternal bonding” than the other group. Nearly 60% of women who seek abortions already have children.

The claim: Women who have abortions give up the chance to become parents.

The finding from the Turnaway Study: “Women who receive an abortion are more likely to have an intended pregnancy within the next five years compared to women who are denied,” the study found.

The claim: There is no health risk to being forced to carry a pregnancy to term.

The finding from the Turnaway Study: Women who were denied abortions reported more chronic pain and worse overall health. Two women who were turned away and gave birth died of pregnancy-related causes.

The claim: People who are turned away shouldn’t have waited so long to get an abortion.

The finding from the Turnaway Study: “The gestational bans seem to be passed with this idea that people are sitting around wasting time instead of getting an abortion, and that is not true,” says Greene Foster. People don’t realize, she says, “how much not having money slows you down from being able to get an abortion, find a clinic, pay for it, get to the clinic, stay overnight sometimes, buy childcare, get out of work.”

The claim: Women should know right away when they’re pregnant.

The finding from the Turnaway Study: Many women do not know they’re pregnant, Greene Foster pointed out, because they already have irregular periods, or because they don’t have pregnancy symptoms. The study found, she said, that “statistically, the things that slow people down [from realizing that they’re pregnant] are being young, so they’ve never been pregnant before, and having been on birth control—if you think that you’re protected from the risk of pregnancy then you’re slower to realize that in fact you are pregnant.”

Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter. 

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