The Turnaway Study — when reproductive freedom is denied

There has already been catastrophic fallout since SCOTUS handed down the Dobbs decision overturning Roe, ending federal guarantee of right of access to abortion and allowing states to completely ban abortion. It hasn’t taken long to hear stories of forced pregnancy, vital medical care withheld and criminalization of reproductive rights. Stories of maternal deaths are sure to come.

Pregnant people who live in, or have the resources to travel to, a pro-choice state will be able to terminate a pregnancy. They will still have that reproductive freedom. But what about the pregnant people forced to give birth because of restricted abortion access? What will the future be like for them, already oppressed whether it be due to poverty, racism, genderphobia or misogyny?

A window into the not-too-distant future comes through the Turnaway Study, a longitudinal study conducted by researchers at University of California-San Francisco, who studied the long-term health and well-being of women who had had abortions.

The study was created in response to the lack of data to answer anecdotal claims from far-right Christian groups that having an abortion led to long-term emotional trauma. The researchers followed 1,000 women over a period of 10 years ending in 2016. Participants either had had an abortion or were turned away because they were too far along in their pregnancies, according to medical or state restrictions.

Researchers interviewed participants over a five-year period to determine the impact the abortion or — if they were turned away — the childbirth had had on their lives.

The Turnaway Study disproved the prevailing theory that abortion was a regrettable life event for anyone choosing to end a pregnancy; 95% of the women in the study who had had an abortion said it had been the right decision. That did not change over the five-year period. These participants did not experience a higher than average degree of anxiety, depression or suicide, debunking the claim of far-right zealots.

What the study researchers did conclude was that not allowing women to have an abortion, when that was clearly their choice, had far-reaching, long-term, sometimes devastating impacts on their lives and the lives of their families.

The “turned away” women were four times more likely to be living in poverty, and they reported more anxiety symptoms and low self-esteem. They had more instances of serious health complications directly related to pregnancy. These complications ranged from high blood pressure and chronic pain to eclampsia (seizures during or shortly after childbirth) and even maternal death.

According to the Turnaway research, women who had been denied an abortion were less likely to have any kind of hopeful plan for the future and were more likely to stay with an abusive partner.

This last finding is particularly disturbing given that homicide is already the leading cause of death among pregnant women. According to a study in the October 2021 “Obstetrics and Gynecology,” pregnant women in the U.S. die by homicide more often than they die of pregnancy-related causes — and are frequently killed by a partner. Using death certificates, researchers discovered the dreadful statistic by comparing homicides and pregnancy-related deaths across the U.S. for the first time.

Maternal mortality in the U.S. has been increasing since the 1990s. The rate of that mortality is surely higher than statistics show, given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not count homicide in their maternal mortality statistics. (, July 14)

The outcomes of the Turnaway Study underline the necessity for bold action now, to regain and secure reproductive rights, before more lives and futures are crushed.


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Marie Kelly

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Marie Kelly

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