This week, Oklahoma passed legislation that would criminalize abortion by revoking the licenses of doctors who choose to perform this procedure—a procedure, it is worth noting, that has been a Constitutional right since 1973. Appeals of the measure will slowly wind their way through the court system, and the legislation will almost certainly be declared unconstitutional. That doesn't mean it won't harm women. Women who are pregnant right now—including rape survivors, children impregnated by family members, and women whose pregnancies will more tightly bind them to their abusive spouses—need abortions. The new law almost certainly means they won't get them.
So what happens to them?
The Turnaway Study
In the minds of anti-choicers, denying women abortions performs an act of magic: suddenly these evil abortion-seekers turn into all-loving, all-nurturing mothers. The barriers they face to a healthy pregnancy disappear. They suddenly become wealthy enough to raise babies, and they go on to do precisely that. Or maybe they happily give their babies up for adoption—ideally to white, Christian couples—and never give the pregnancy another thought. Because, of course, women with unwanted pregnancies have no feelings, and carrying a child for nine months then giving them away certainly isn't traumatic!
Except that's not what happens at all. Denying a woman an abortion only removes her ability to get an abortion, not any of the other challenges she faces. That's why so many women denied abortions seek illegal abortions. These abortions can claim the lives of both women and their babies—not exactly a pro-life outcome. When an illegal abortion is not available, or when a woman doesn't want to risk her health, she's stuck with a painful choice: raise a child she's not ready for, or face the trauma of carrying that child and then giving them away.
An ongoing study known as the Turnaway Study looked at what happened to women denied abortions. The picture is pretty grim. Researchers followed women for a period of five years, conducting regular phone interviews to assess the effects of being denied an abortion.
Ninety percent of the participants opted to keep their babies. Researchers found that these women and their children faced a number of hardships:
Women who carried their pregnancies to term were more likely to remain with abusive partners, and more likely to face ongoing abuse. Seven percent reported that they had been abused in the past month.
Being denied an abortion increased a woman's risk of living in poverty, thereby increasing her child's exposure to poverty, too.
Being forced to carry a child to term increased a woman's reliance on government assistance, and decreased her likelihood of holding down a full-time job.
Women denied abortions were more likely to suffer serious pregnancy complications, such as life-threatening post-partum hemorrhages. Though the study did not directly test why, this could be due to substandard prenatal care.
Abortion denial worsened women's mental health, with women reporting high levels of anxiety and stress, even a year after the procedure. No such increase in anxiety was found among women who went through with their abortions, 97% of whom say they did not regret the procedure.
The Fraud of Post-Abortion Syndrome
Anti-choicers have repeatedly pointed to so-called post-abortion syndrome, but research shows it just doesn't exist. Lawmakers who are really concerned about women and children should turn their attention to the catastrophic effects of being denied an abortion.
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