June 13, 2013 — "Most studies on the effects of abortion compare women who have abortions with those who choose to carry their pregnancies to term," instead of comparing "women who obtain abortions just before the gestational deadline versus women who miss that deadline and are turned away," according to a New York Times Magazine piece examining an ongoing study about what happens to women who seek abortions but are unable to obtain them.
The novel research by Diana Greene Foster, a demographer and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California-San Francisco, aims to assess physical, psychological and socioeconomic outcomes for these women, known as "turnaways."
Reasons Women Are Turned Away
There are several reasons why women might not be able to obtain an abortion, including a lack of money; obesity, which can complicate the procedure; and, most commonly, gestational limits. "Usually the only difference between making it [by the limit] and not is just realizing you are pregnant," Foster said. Women in the study also said delays were related to travel and procedure costs, insurance issues and not knowing where to obtain care.
The study encompasses 30 clinics in 21 states, which have varying gestational limits from 10 weeks to the end of the second trimester of pregnancy. Women who were turned away from clinics with the latest gestational limits had no other abortion options within 150 miles, the Times Magazine notes.
Early results from Foster's research show that turnaways were more likely to have negative outcomes related to their physical health and economic stability. For example, women who were unable to obtain abortions were three times more likely than those who had the procedure to have incomes below the federal poverty line two years later.
Foster also hopes the research will help provide a fuller picture of how abortion affects women's mental and emotional health. Although the American Psychological Association concluded in a 2008 report that women with unplanned pregnancies who obtained abortions had no greater risk of mental health problems than women who continued their pregnancies to term, the findings only considered first-trimester procedures.
Foster said her study is designed to separate women's reaction to pregnancy from their reaction to the abortion, as well as acknowledge that women seeking abortions likely have a complex mix of emotions. Initial results on those findings will be published this fall.
As the study continues, Foster plans to assess mother-child bonding, whether turnaways face lasting economic difficulties and how children of turnaways compare with children born to women who previously obtained an abortion (Lang, New York Times Magazine, 6/12).