From the September-October 2022 issue of News & Letters
Right-wing, anti-abortion lawmakers increasingly claim, without evidence, that “abortion hurts women.” Laws limiting abortion claim to be based on this notion, but these regulations cause actual harm to women along with limiting access.
These include forcing women to make extra trips, sometimes hundreds of miles, take time off work and risk getting fired, and find extra childcare and places to stay for a second clinic appointment only after getting a mandatory lecture lying about “harms” at the first.
A RIGOROUS STUDY
In The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—or Being Denied—an Abortion, conducted before the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Diana Greene Foster investigated the real experiences of women receiving abortions in the first and second trimester. She compared them with the experiences of women turned away for being over the gestational time limit. Previous studies only compared them with women giving birth in wanted pregnancies.
Over 40 researchers, including sociologists, economists, psychologists, statisticians, nurses, doctors and public health scientists, collaborated with Foster on this intensive ten-year study. They recruited over a thousand women seeking abortions at 30 U.S. clinics, interviewing them every six months for five years. They asked about mental and physical health, life goals, and relationships with partners, family, and children. They published 50 academic papers, and the study has been praised for being rigorous and investigating numerous issues.
WHAT REALLY HARMS WOMEN
The study found no evidence of abortion harm, but did find ways carrying unwanted pregnancies to term can be harmful. Ten women representing different situations tell their stories to show the effects on real people and those around them.
Those forced to give birth had more financial hardships and difficulties achieving goals, including educational. They had more physical health problems and complicated deliveries than women with wanted pregnancies. They had more difficulty leaving abusive partners, while those having abortions sometimes found better partners later.
Women given abortions were more able to have a higher number of children later. Their existing children were more likely to meet child-development milestones. Refusing abortion did not lead to strong marriages and families as right-wingers claim.
The study shed light on many other issues. Few agreed with right-wingers that adoption is an acceptable option. Most mothers denied abortions accepted their child but were less emotionally attached than women who had abortions were to their subsequent children.
WOMEN MUST MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS
Women seeking late-term abortions often did not know they were pregnant, then had trouble raising the increasing amount of money for abortion as their pregnancy progressed. Foster also discussed the need to develop more effective contraception without harmful side effects rather than to blame women for unintended pregnancies.
This study is already influencing public opinion, and Foster is planning other studies on abortion in the U.S. and in Nepal. Hopefully, this will set a higher standard for what is accepted as scientific knowledge about reproduction and abortion in the minds of the public and lawmakers.
Foster says, “[O]ur moral and legal opinions should be based on an accurate understanding of our world.” She also explains that what is at stake is the understanding that women are capable of making competent decisions about their lives, which governments should not make for them.