The Turnaway Study, conducted by researchers with the organization Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health has provided the first look at what happens to women that want abortions but are unable to access them. Over a two-year period, researchers recruited over 1,000 women from 30 clinics across the country. Three types of women were recruited: those that received a surgical or medical abortion during the first trimester; those whose gestational age was between one day to two weeks below the clinic’s limit for providing abortions; and those whose gestational age was one day to three weeks over the limit, and were therefore turned away without getting an abortion.
The planned five-year study has been going on for four years, with the participating women interviewed every six months about “changes in [their] mental and physical health, education, employment, economic situation, social support, and family relationships.” Women that were unable to get abortions and carried to term are also asked about “their infant’s health and place of residence and about their own parenting issues and use of social services.”
In an interview with the website i09, Diana Greene Foster, the study’s lead researcher, discussed some of the preliminary findings. For instance, women that were unable to get abortions were more likely to be on public assistance a year after being denied the procedure, than women that had abortions were a year later. Only 48% of the “turnaways” had a full-time job a year later, versus 58% of the women that had abortions. Seventy-six percent of the turnaways were on public assistance, compared to 44% of those women that got abortions.
Foster also noted that women that were denied abortions were more likely to remain in an abusive relationship. She stressed that “this wasn’t because the turnaways were more likely to get into abusive relationships. It was simply that getting abortions allowed women to get out of such relationships more easily.”
The study also looked at the emotional repercussions of abortion. This is particularly important because anti-choice activists have been very successful in promoting the idea that abortion leads to a whole host of mental problems for women, including drug abuse, promiscuity, and depression. The Turnaway Study looked both at how women that got abortions and turnaways felt, and if they became clinically depressed. One week after having an abortion, 97% of women “felt it was the right decision” and 65% of the turnaways wished they’d been able to have an abortion. The study didn’t find any indication of persistent, harmful emotions from getting an abortion; after one year, the turnaways felt more stress, but that was the only difference between the two groups.
While the study is still ongoing, these findings point to what a number of us in the pro-choice community have long known: that women benefit from being able to fully control their reproductive choices.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.