What to Expect after Roe, Based on ResearchBreaking News
tags: Roe v. Wade, abortion, Supreme Court, reproductive rights, abortion rights
Diana Greene Foster is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences and director of research at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH). Her book, The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—or Being Denied—an Abortion was published in 2020.
When I was in high school, I learned a secret my grandmother had kept for decades: She’d had an abortion. The story came out after she passed away and my grandfather announced that, at her request, in lieu of flowers donations should be made to Planned Parenthood. For me, as a naïve teenager, it was a surprise that someone so maternal and loving would have had an abortion. I had been taught – through TV shows, movies and books – that abortion was something that irresponsible people do to avoid childbearing. I am sure this is how many people still see abortion.
The story my grandfather told was that my grandmother became pregnant early in their marriage, during the Great Depression when she and my grandfather didn’t have the jobs, money and security to provide for a child. So she traveled from New York to Puerto Rico to get an illegal abortion. Later she went on to have three children: my dad, my aunt and my uncle.
Learning her story made a big impression on me. The topic of abortion was even more taboo in her youth than it is now. But clearly, this experience, early in her marriage, had so profound an effect on her life that she wanted to express her gratitude. Yet she waited to do so until she wouldn’t have to face anyone’s judgment.
The question of why people really seek abortions, and the course of their lives afterward, has driven my career as a demographer. In 2007 I began what turned out to be a landmark, 10-year study that evaluated the real-life consequences of abortion on women’s lives. I was inspired to start this study, not because I wanted to engage in our nation’s decades-long bitter and politically charged abortion debate, but because I wanted to look more closely into the real-life experience of unwanted pregnancy: What happens when someone is pregnant but feels they don’t have the money, physical strength and wellbeing, or emotional and social resources to raise a child? And how does the trajectory of their lives change when they are able to get an abortion — or when they can’t?
My study, which came to be known as the Turnaway Study, followed a thousand women who sought abortions from one of 30 abortion facilities across the country. Some of these women received an abortion and others, who were too far along in pregnancy, were turned away. By following those women for years afterward, we were able to compare the outcomes for those getting an abortion versus those who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term. My team of researchers conducted 7,800 interviews over the 10 years of the study.
What we found is that decisions about abortion and pregnancy are often driven by the desire to be a good parent. Among people seeking abortion, 60 percent already had children and 40 percent said they want to have a child in the future. Far from being irresponsible, the women we interviewed knew full well what is involved in having children and wanted to wait to do so under the right circumstances. Most commonly, those seeking abortion said they were not financially prepared to take care of a child. Others said it wasn’t the right time for a baby or that they wanted to focus on the children they already had. In other words, many people, like my grandmother, choose to wait to have children until they are better able to support a family.
Little did I know in 2007, when I was just starting to pilot test our surveys, how relevant the study would become. Soon, the Supreme Court will likely allow abortion to become illegal in half of the states of our country in its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. What this means is that in large parts of the country, many pregnant people who want an abortion are about to be “turned away” as were the women we interviewed for the study.