Key new evidence emerges at just the right time

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As more states pass draconian abortion laws and the legal precedent of Roe v. Wade grows under increasing threat, Scientific American is shining the light on a unique study about the impacts of getting versus being denied an abortion. Anti-abortion activists have long argued that women suffer negative consequences from an abortion. However, the results of this extensive study reveal otherwise.

The “Turnaway Study,” designed over a decade ago by Professor Diana Greene Foster of the University of California, San Francisco, avoided the approach of prior studies that compared very different groups of people. The Turnaway Study compared women who were just under the gestational limit and therefore got the abortion they sought with women who slightly exceeded the limit and were thus turned away.

After recruiting almost 1,000 women in 21 states from 2008 to 2010, the researchers interviewed the participants twice a year for five years. The results show that the women who were denied an abortion suffered in their physical and mental wellbeing as well as with their education and financial situation. Although the results, which have been published in 50 scientific journals from 2012 to 2020, may be familiar to scientists, women’s rights advocates should also pay close attention as the other side is pulling out all the stops in their feverish quest to erase decades of progress.

For years, anti-abortion activists have claimed that abortion is bad for women’s health. More recently, as Scientific American points out, they also argue that abortion access is no longer relevant to a woman’s financial independence because “there are now many laws that protect equal economic opportunity.” However, the Turnaway Study reveals that our reality paints a different picture.

The Turnaway Study found that women who subsequently gave birth after having been denied the abortion they sought were more likely to struggle financially. Six months later, 61% of women who exceeded the gestational limit were living below the U.S. federal poverty level, compared to 45% among the group who received an abortion. Other financial distress indicators, such as debt, bankruptcies, and evictions, also increased dramatically among the participants who were denied.

As for women’s physical and mental health, the study found “no emergent cases of depression, anxiety or suicidality” after an abortion. On the contrary, the women who were denied an abortion suffered short-term mental health declines, including anxiety, low self-esteem, and general dissatisfaction with life. The Turnaway Study also found that the women who unwillingly carried their pregnancy to term were up to 35% more likely to suffer long-term health consequences than the women who gained access to abortion because they were under the gestational limit.

Not only does the Turnaway Study provide needed ammunition at a critical moment in the fight for women’s rights, but it is another reminder of the role that science plays in so many areas of our lives. No matter one’s political or religious beliefs, the fact remains that trusting science is always the right move.

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