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What will happen if Americans lose the constitutional right to abortion? Not all women who need an abortion would find a way to get one. Many would carry the unwanted pregnancy to term and give birth.

The discourse around abortion tends to focus on women and generally fails to consider how being denied an abortion affects the children a pregnant woman already has and those she may have in the future. The research is clear: Restricting access to abortion doesn’t just harm women — it harms their children as well.

For the past decade, I have been leading the nationwide Turnaway Study at the University of California, San Francisco. My colleagues and I have followed more than 200 women who were denied abortions because they showed up at abortion facilities too late in pregnancy. More than two-thirds of these women carried the unwanted pregnancy to term and gave birth. Our study shows that denying a woman a wanted abortion has a negative impact on her life and the lives of her children.

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More than half of women who seek abortions are already mothers. There are three sets of children whose lives may be affected by whether a woman receives or is denied an abortion:

  • the child or children a woman already has when seeking an abortion
  • the child born from an unwanted pregnancy
  • the child or children born from a pregnancy after an abortion

By comparing the outcomes of children of women who were denied abortions to those of more than 400 women who received abortions, we have been able to see the impact of abortion on women’s existing and future children.

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Our latest research, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, shows what happens to women’s existing children. Consistent with mothers’ concerns that raising a new child would limit their ability to care for their existing children, we found significantly worse socioeconomic outcomes for children whose mothers were denied abortions than those who received them: a greater chance of living below the poverty level (72 percent compared to 55 percent) or living in a household without enough money to cover food, housing, and transportation (87 percent compared to 70 percent).

We also saw a small but significant reduction in achieving developmental milestones among children whose mothers were denied abortions compared to those who received them, possibly related to the increased financial strain on the family.

Among women who seek an abortion but are denied it, more than 90 percent choose to keep and raise the child rather than place it for adoption. What is life like for these children? We compared children born after their mothers were denied abortions to the next children born to women who received abortions. Writing in JAMA Pediatrics, we showed that children born to women who were denied abortions fared worse. They were more likely to live in households where there wasn’t enough money to pay for basic living expenses. Women are also much more likely to report poor maternal bonding — feeling trapped as a mother, resenting their baby, or longing for the “old days” before they had the baby — with the child born after abortion denial than with the next child born following a wanted abortion.

One explanation for these differences is that pregnancies after an abortion are much more likely to be intended than those for which an abortion was sought. As we wrote in the journal Contraception, women who received a wanted abortion were more likely to have an intended pregnancy in the next five years than women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term. In other words, being able to access abortion gives women the opportunity to have a child later with the right partner, at the right time.

A woman in the Midwest who had an abortion six months after the birth of her first child and who had another baby five years after her abortion told us, “It would have been probably the worst thing for that child to come into this world because it would have never had the support it needed. I wasn’t mentally stable for that child. I do have a 1-year-old now and I am able to support myself, able to support my kids, and know the timing is right. Financially, now, it all makes sense. … But, to have two [children] 12 months apart without that abortion, there’s just no way I would be where I am right now if I would have kept that child.”

Whether to have an abortion can be a difficult decision to make. The fetus could develop into a unique person that would never get another chance to be born. A woman must also consider her own life goals, which may include taking care of her existing children, and the chance to have children under better circumstances when she can better take care of herself and a new baby.

The decision is a complicated balancing of responsibilities and opportunities that must be weighed by each woman, not made by politicians or Supreme Court justices. If a woman wants an abortion and cannot get one — a likely outcome for many if abortion becomes even more restricted than it already is — she will face diminished opportunities to achieve other life goals, gain secure financial footing, and have a child she can cherish and support.

Diana Greene Foster, Ph.D., is the director of research at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a collaborative research group at the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.

  • As a doctor who takes care of young women, I can say that the experience captured in this piece is what the reality actually is for these women. This question of “what is best for me and my family” is central in a woman’s decision about having an abortion or not.

    Women are experts about their own lives. No one other than the person herself who is grappling with an unwanted pregnancy knows what is best.

  • It is immoral to murder someone because you think they are poor or will live without being loved. Your belief system, about how to make a better world by spilling the blood of little ones, is demonic.

    Jesus said…..Mark 9:37 (KJV) Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

    But man does this…….
    Psalms 106:37-38 (KJV) Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils,
    And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.

    Proverbs 30:14 (KJV) There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.

    Psalms 94:6-10 (KJV) They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
    Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
    Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?
    He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
    He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?

    Proverbs 24:11-12 (KJV) If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;
    If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?

    • To Bobby boob

      That amendment is about the rights and equal protection of the laws and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. It has ZERO to do with abortion. FULL STOP!

      It’s NOT what you feel [GAG] or think the AmendMEANT. #TheMoreYouSHOULDknow

  • And when they are allowed an abortion, their children are DEAD. There is no worse outcome than death. Lots of people weren’t particularly wanted or valued by their parents — ask them it they think they should have been killed instead of born. Anyone you know might have had “poorer bonding” with their mother than siblings. EVERYONE you know had less money growing up than the family would have had if they had never been born. The premise of this article is fatally flawed.

    • You are absolutely right Gail, the people that are concerned about a woman being able to do what she wants with her body have no concerns how about first degree murder of an unborn child. It is disgusting. Those kind of people will say anything they can 2 Seer over their conscience. If they have one.

  • Of course nobody fares worse than the child whose life was taken. That child gets no future.

  • “When women are denied an abortion, their children fare worse than peers” except for the kids that receive an suffer abortion fare worse than everyone because they are dead. Not to mention having a mom that doesn’t value life probably is a major contributing factor to the kids doing worse. This seems like shoddy research where they didn’t control for critical variables

    • “Unwanted”??? There are so many infertile couples who would desperately want these children.

    • In this alleged “study,” what percentage of the children were being raised without fathers? It’s well-established that fatherless kids are at higher risk of depression, suicide, adult obesity, drug abuse, and becoming violent felons

    • @David Altschul – bravo! Point well made. What now qualifies as a “study” is truly alarming. This alleged “study” is a farce.

  • “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions…”

    Except, one assumes, the unwillingly impregnated woman — who bears ALL of the effort and ALL of the risk, post-impregnation.

  • The photo does not match the article. This is not an article about headless women about to give birth. The point is that women are making decisions about their bodies and their families. They do have heads. And they also often have children. How about a picture of a woman and child?

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