In A Word, Yes

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has stricken the longstanding constitutional right to abortion services, abortions will be severely restricted or no longer available at all in about ½ of the states in the U.S. Whether abortion remains legal in Arizona will be determined by the Arizona Supreme Court’s interpretation of conflicting abortion laws on the books in Arizona. See: U.S. Supreme Court Scraps Roe: Sends Abortion Rights Decisions to the States

From now on, decisions about whether women have the right to abortion services will be made at the state level.

Lawmakers who are in favor of restricting abortion rights are unlikely to be persuaded that their decision harms public health outcomes. Nevertheless… it’s important that we, as public health professionals, present the evidence base regarding the public health consequences of eliminating abortion services.

The most comprehensive analysis done to date is the ‘The Turnaway Study’ which is a longitudinal study examining the effects of unwanted pregnancy on women’s lives.

The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having or Being Denied an Abortion

The major aim of the study is to describe the mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic consequences of receiving an abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. Among the study’s top-level findings is that receiving an abortion does not harm the health and wellbeing of women, however, being denied an abortion results in worse financial, health and family outcomes.

The Turnaway Study found serious consequences are more likely to occur when women are denied a wanted abortion including a 400% increased risk of living below the Federal Poverty Level, which causes a cascade of bad health outcomes and intergenerational poverty.

Beyond a 400% increase in the risk of living in poverty, the Study found that women denied an abortion also are:

  • More likely to experience serious complications from the end of pregnancy including eclampsia and death;
  • More likely to stay tethered to abusive partners;
  • More likely to suffer anxiety and loss of self-esteem (in the short term) after being denied abortion;
  • Less likely to have aspirational life plans for the coming year; and
  • More likely to experience poor physical health for years after the pregnancy, including chronic pain and gestational hypertension.

The study also finds that being denied abortion has serious implications for the children born of unwanted pregnancy, as well as for the existing children in the family.

The study also found that many of the common claims about the detrimental effects on women’s health of having an abortion are not supported by evidence. For example, women who have an abortion are not more likely than those denied the procedure to have depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation. Their findings suggest that 95% of women report that having the abortion was the right decision for them over five years after the procedure.

Here are some resources that make the results of the Turnaway Study more digestible:

Issue briefs on the mental health and socioeconomic consequences of having an abortion versus carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term are also available.

More than fifty scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals have used the findings of the Turnaway Study. Here’s a bibliography that provides a complete list of publications. Research categories include:

  • Socioeconomic consequences of abortion and abortion denial
  • Effect of abortion and abortion denial on romantic relationship
  • Consequences of abortion for women’s life plans and education
  • Effect of abortion and abortion denial on mental health and wellbeing
  • Physical Health after Abortion and Abortion Denial
  • Consequences of abortion and abortion denial for alcohol, tobacco and drug use
  • Effect of abortion and abortion denial on women’s existing and future children
  • Why women in the U.S. seek abortions
  • Who seeks later abortion and who is denied because they are beyond gestational limits?
  • Women’s experiences with paying for abortion, counseling, ultrasound viewing and protesters
  • Emotions and Decision Rightness
  • Consideration of adoption among women seeking abortion
  • Effect of abortion on attitudes toward abortion rights and morality
  • Contraceptive use and subsequent pregnancies
  • Pregnancy intentions

For a deep dive into the Turnaway Study including the study’s design, methods, analysis, results, and conclusions visit The Turnaway Study | ANSIRH (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health).

I’m not naïve to the fact that most politicians who support ending abortion services are unlikely to be persuaded that their position does harm. Nevertheless… it’s important that we, as public health professionals, present the evidence base regarding what happens when abortion services are withheld to inform politicians about the evidence base. We will continue to engage in the evidence debate, even as our state health department refuses to do so.