chart from study of proportion of positive plans

“No Duh” Study of the Day: Women Denied Abortions Have Less Positive Life Outlook

This unsurprising finding comes from the latest installment in an ongoing study exploring the mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic consequences of being denied an abortion. As we’ve covered, ANSIRH’s Turnaway Study has previously found that women who wanted an abortion but weren’t able to get one had worse physical health, were three times more likely to be living in poverty, and had a harder time escaping an abusive relationship down the road. 

In this latest study, the researchers asked respondents who’d either just gotten an abortion or just missed the cut-off to get one about their personal hopes and dreams for the next year. Many of their plans were related to their education and employment, as well as less concrete but equally important aspirations like “wanting to be happier, to be less stressed, or to be healthier.” Most of the women in both groups had a pretty postive outlook, which is an incredible testament to human strength. As the study’s lead author, Ushma D. Upadhyay, told The Establishment, “Women are resilient and most women had positive visions for their future, including those who were recently denied an abortion.” But the women who’d been able to get the abortion they sought were both significantly more likely to have aspirational goals and to have acheived them a year later.

“Popular support for abortion is often based on a desire for women to have access to life opportunities,” Upadhyay says. “Until now, we have had little evidence to support this premise.” Of course, that’s not exactly true. Perhaps we’ve never have a quantitative study with a control group conducted by an academic institution. But, as the study points out, we’ve heard plenty of people report that they’ve had an abortion because “the timing isn’t right” or they’re “not ready to be a mother” or a baby would “dramatically change their lives.” And I frankly refuse to believe that there is an adult on the planet who doesn’t know — even without a study backing it up — that this is true: having a baby will dramatically change your life. I’m not convinced that the problem is that anti-choicers haven’t considered what being forced to have a baby against your will might do to your own life plans — I think it’s that many of them just don’t care. Often, the anti-choice comeback to hearing people’s reasons for having an abortion is simply: Well, then you should have thought about that before you had sex.

To some, the consequences — the dreams deferred, the health sacrificed, the stress multiplied — are apparently just deserts for the crime of being sexually active and unlucky. I’m not sure more evidence will do much to combat such a profound lack of empathy.

Header image credit: ANSIRH

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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