There are many barriers to abortion access, and a new study by a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC San Francisco examines the physical, psychological and socioeconomic effects on women who wanted an abortion but couldn’t get one – “turnaways.” Research in this area has generally been biased or incomplete, but Dr. Diana Greene Foster’s study hopes to eventually provide clear insight into the fates of children born to women who carried unwanted pregnancies to term.
Women face many barriers to abortion access, including insurance bans, biased counseling, unnecessary ultrasounds, and forced waiting periods. Many crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) intentionally deceive women into thinking they provide a wide range of health services including abortion, but instead provide anti-abortion counseling and material to women seeking an abortion. These clinics use manipulation and lies to force an ideological agenda on women who are facing an extremely difficult situation.
Foster and fellow researchers studied three groups in order to compare the outcomes of women who receive abortions later in pregnancy to those who obtain abortions early in pregnancy, which is when the majority of abortions in the United States occur (only 1.5 percent occur at 21 weeks or later).
The research, which is set to be published in the fall, was examined and reported by New York Times journalist Joshua Lang. Foster’s study finds no correlation between having an abortion and increased symptoms of depression or anxiety. However, turnaways had significant negative outcomes as far as their physical health and economic stability. Women who were denied abortion services were three times as likely to end up below the poverty line:
When she looked at more objective measures of mental health over time — rates of depression and anxiety — she also found no correlation between having an abortion and increased symptoms… Foster notes that “women’s depression and anxiety symptoms either remained steady or decreased over the two-year period after receiving an abortion.”
Where the turnaways had more significant negative outcomes was in their physical health and economic stability. Because new mothers are eligible for government programs, Foster thought that they might have better health over time. But women in the turnaway group suffered more ill effects, including higher rates of hypertension and chronic pelvic pain… Even “later abortions are significantly safer than childbirth,” she says, “and we see that through lower complications and low incidence of chronic conditions.”
Economically, the results are even more striking… Women denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later. Having a child is expensive, and many mothers have trouble holding down a job while caring for an infant. Had the turnaways not had access to public assistance for women with newborns, Foster says, they would have experienced greater hardship.
Anti-choice Americans claim that abortion hurts women, and generally use women who have had abortions and regretted their decision to speak at rallies, including using women who say that having an abortion caused them to get breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, and the American Cancer Society states that “scientific research studies have no found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”
Conservative politicians have spent the last few years attacking women’s rights and making it more difficult for women to have access to abortion services despite the Supreme Court ruling in 1973 stating that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion until such time as a fetus is viable outside of the womb (around 24 weeks). During the first 6 months of 2013 alone, states enacted 43 abortion restrictions, as many as were enacted during the entire previous year.
In Foster’s study, only 6.6 percent of near-gestational limit patients and 5.6 percent of turnaways finished college. One in 10 was on welfare, and approximately 80 percent of participants said they didn’t earn enough income to meet basic living needs.
Ultimately, most women who are unable to obtain an abortion do eventually adjust. “About 5 percent of the women, after they have had the baby, still wish they hadn’t,” Foster told the Times. Still, these women suffer severe socioeconomic setbacks. And, unfortunately for women across the country, the same conservative politicians who wish to restrict access to abortion are those who also want to stifle sex education as well as cut government aid to citizens in poverty.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.