As pro-life advocates frequently argue, abortions can cause emotional stress and anxiety for the women who receive them, but one study is also looking at the long-term effects of women with unwanted pregnancies who don’t have an abortion.
The ongoing study from researchers at the Advancing New Standards in Public Health, which works to ensure reproductive health care and policy, follows the lives of nearly 1,000 women who sought an abortion, and finds that women who were turned away because their pregnancies had advanced past the legal time period were more likely to rely on government assistance, live below the poverty line, and were less likely to have a full-time job a year later than the women who had obtained abortions.
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At the time the women sought abortions, there were no differences in economic status between the two groups and 45 percent were receiving public assistance. But after a year, 76 percent of the women in the study who wanted an abortion and were turned away were on public assistance, compared to 44 percent of those who received abortions, and 67 percent of “turnaways” were living below the poverty line (versus 56 percent of women who got abortions).
The study has also found that there “are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term,” which goes against some of the controversial research often touted by politicians that abortions lead to mental illness, drug use and even suicide. However, according to the study, it wasn’t the women who had abortions, but women who were turned away that reported more anxiety a week after being denied and more stress a year out.
The study’s researchers note that much of the existing work on this topic tends to compare women who obtain abortions with those who have the baby by choice, not those who wanted to have an abortion but couldn’t legally. “Such a comparison is inherently biased and paints a distorted picture of life following an elective abortion or pregnancy continuation,” the researchers write.
In the meantime, many states have limited the time period that a women is legally allowed to have an abortion. Arizona, for example, signed a law last April that bans abortions after 18 weeks, except in cases of medical emergency, and since 2010, nine other states have signed laws limiting abortions to 20 weeks. And this summer, a federal appeals court upheld a South Dakota law that requires doctors to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure causes an increased risk of suicide. As the abortion debate continues, research looking at the long-term socioeconomic effects of both scenarios could be an important part of the conversation.
The Turnaway Study is a five-year longitudinal study that recruited women from 30 abortion clinics across the country where no clinic within 150 miles performs procedures at a later gestation. Eligible participants in the study included English and Spanish-speaking abortion patients, 15 and older, who had no known fetal anomalies or fetal demise. After each interview, participants receive a $50 gift card for a large retail store such as Target or Walmart.