The dire health consequences of denying abortions, explained

“important research published in 2020 that compared the fates of women who were forced to carry pregnancies to term versus those who were provided abortions. The influential Turnaway Study, as it’s commonly referred to, found that, among other things, women who were denied an abortion endured more serious pregnancy complications, more chronic pain, and more short-term anxiety.”

“more unwanted pregnancies would be carried to term if the court were to negate a federal right to abortion.”

“The Turnaway Study began in 2007 and followed more than 1,000 women for five years to assess how their lives had been altered, if at all, by the provision or the denial of an abortion. Some of the women had an abortion shortly before reaching the gestational limit set by their state or provider, while others had just passed that limit and were denied an abortion as a result. The differences in the women’s experiences from that critical moment onward were the purview of the study.

“We find no evidence abortion hurts women,” Foster writes in the 2020 book The Turnaway Study that covered the research’s findings. “For every outcome we analyzed, women who received an abortion were either the same or, more frequently, better off than women who were denied an abortion.”

The mental health of women who received an abortion was better immediately after the procedure than that of women who were denied one. Their physical health fared better over the longer term. Their subsequent children developed better.

Foster presents a nuanced picture, noting, for example, that after the five-year period of the study, almost none of the women who ended up carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term said that they still wished they’d had an abortion. But Foster is nevertheless unequivocal in her conclusions about what being denied an abortion meant for the women involved: “We find many ways in which women were hurt by carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term.””

“The most unexpected and tragic outcome noted in the Turnaway Study was that two of the women died because of childbirth complications. It came as a shock to Foster, who wrote that she “did not expect to find even one maternal death in a study of 1,000 women.” The US maternal mortality rate is 1.7 per 10,000, meaning the odds of two women in 1,000 dying were exceedingly low.

Foster was careful not to be definitive about this finding, writing that a much larger sample size would be necessary to draw any firm conclusions about the relationship between being denied an abortion and maternal mortality. The implications remain grim, however: “This level of maternal mortality is shocking,” she wrote.

Short of death, women who are denied an abortion are more likely to have serious complications than women who received an abortion. The Turnaway Study found that 6.3 percent of the women who had given birth suffered life-threatening complications versus about 1 percent of women who had complications from an abortion.

Women who were denied an abortion also saw a higher risk of gestational hypertension, which increases their risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. The study found that 9.4 percent of women who gave birth experienced hypertension during the pregnancy versus 4.2 percent of women who had second-trimester abortions and 1.9 percent of those who had first-trimester abortions.

The women who gave birth also experienced slightly higher rates of chronic head pain and joint pain afterward. On self-reported health, a metric shown to be a strong indicator of future health and mortality, 27 percent of women who carried their pregnancies to term after being denied an abortion said they were in fair or poor health versus 21 percent of women who had second-trimester abortions and 20 percent of women who had an abortion in the first trimester.

“To the extent that there were differences in health outcomes,” Foster wrote, “they were all to the detriment of women who gave birth.””

““We found no mental health harm from having an abortion.””

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