Here's What Happens to (Poor) Women Who Are Denied Abortions


The New York Times Magazine takes an extensive look this week into the consequences for women who are denied abortion. But the piece, “What happens to women who are denied abortions,” should really be called “What happens to poor women who are denied abortions.” The results of the groundbreaking study highlighted in the article unsurprisingly show that low-income women are the ones who get truly fucked over by limited access to reproductive health care.

Until recently, there was essentially no data on “turnaways” — women who get turned away from abortion clinics and so are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term — and how they fare over time. That’s why Diana Greene Foster, a demographer and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, launched a study to ask these questions, according to the NYT: “What … were the consequences of having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term? Did it take a higher psychological or economic toll than having an abortion? Or was the reverse true — did the new baby make up for any social or financial difficulties?” Foster began by working with a local abortion clinic who would send women over who were too far along to get an abortion. The ongoing study currently encompasses 30 clinics from 21 states across the country.

Foster found that women who carried to term were not less anxious or depressed than women who got abortions, a bummer conclusion for antis who would like us to believe that all women who get abortions subsequently off themselves. Most women eventually ended up bonding with their babies, but that’s likely because, as one bioethicist said, “It’s psychologically in our interest to tell a positive story and move forward.”

Turnaways experienced more devastatingly negative outcomes in their physical health and economic stability, particularly the latter:

Economically, the results are even more striking. Adjusting for any previous differences between the two groups, women denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later. Having a child is expensive, and many mothers have trouble holding down a job while caring for an infant. Had the turnaways not had access to public assistance for women with newborns, Foster says, they would have experienced greater hardship.

That’s why we wish the piece had delved deeper into the multitude of issues barring poor women from accessing reproductive health care. There’s basically just this:

There are many reasons women are turned away from an abortion clinic — lack of funds (many insurance plans don’t cover abortion) or obesity (excess weight can make the procedure more complicated) — but most simply arrive too late. Women cite not recognizing their pregnancies, travel and procedure costs, insurance problems and not knowing where to find care as common reasons for delay. These are the women for whom “society has the absolute least sympathy,” Foster acknowledges.

But that “lack of funds” directly contributes to women showing up late; it’s not like they’re just lazy and fat. Roe v. Wade’s late-term abortion limits (and the prevalent state bans on what are often called “partial-birth abortions”) are pinned to the rights of the “viable” fetus, not the vulnerable woman who needs a second-trimester abortion.


Image via AP.

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