Abortion Access Improves Children’s Lives

Last month marked the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that affirmed the constitutional right to safe, legal abortion. Almost fifty years later, despite near constant attacks on abortion access, and a largely anti-reproductive health SCOTUS and White House, Americans still overwhelmingly support the decision and an individual’s right to make their own choices about their reproductive futures.

Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health just released the final results of the Turnaway Study that explore the effect of abortion access on an individual’s existing and future children in the US. Earlier findings from the first of its kind research project included that those who are denied are more likely to be below the poverty level years later, have more difficulty escaping domestic violence, and that the vast majority of those who received abortions felt it was the right decision.

Significantly, the recent study results showed that the economic and developmental wellbeing of already existing children is negatively impacted when individuals are denied abortion care, and that children born later to those who are able to access abortion experience more economic security and better maternal bonding than children who were born because the parent was denied a wanted abortion.

National conversations about abortion rights tend to focus on individuals who need this critical health care, not on how abortion denial affects preexisting children and the children we may have in the future. However, the evidence is clear: when we restrict abortion access, it is not just the individuals who need this health care that suffer, it’s their children, too. The bottom line is that if we care about children and their futures, we must protect and expand access to abortion.

In the US, more than half of those seeking abortion are already parents. According to Diana Greene Foster, lead researcher of the Turnaway Study, there are three sets of children whose lives may be affected by whether or not an individual has access to abortion: the children someone already has when seeking an abortion, the child born from an unplanned pregnancy, and the children born from a pregnancy after an abortion.

The study finds that children born of those denied an abortion had greater odds of living in poverty compared to children of those who received a wanted abortion. Existing children are also more likely to live in a household in which their parents are unable to afford necessary living expenses such as food, housing, and transportation compared to children of those who received wanted abortions.

The study also finds that inability to control the timing and circumstances of birth can have negative effects on children born because the parent was denied an abortion, despite the fact that so many parents do their best with limited resources. In comparing such children to the next child born after an individual had received an abortion, the study found that subsequent pregnancies were more likely to be planned than the pregnancies in which the parent was denied abortion care. Those who were able to access abortion care when they needed it were actually more likely to have an intended pregnancy in the next five years. Having access to abortion allows us the opportunity to control our reproductive futures, having children only when we decide the time is right—whether the decision is related to socio-economics, partnership, or a wide variety of other factors.

Parents are more likely to experience poor maternal bonding and feelings of entrapment or resentment towards the child born after abortion denial compared to the next child born after receiving an abortion. This is often a consequence of economic hardship and whatever circumstances led to someone wanting an abortion in the first place. 

Foster notes that the Turnaway Study represents an important shift in perspective away from framing abortion solely as an issue of women’s rights versus fetus’ rights. It is also a question of whether individuals get to have children when they are ready. She argues, “You often hear the argument that abortion should be banned because we were all once fetuses in utero and that each fertilized egg with unique DNA should have the opportunity to be born. But given that abortion has been legal for 46 years, and actually quite common before that, many of us are alive today because our mothers were able to avoid carrying a prior unwanted pregnancy to term. Abortion ends the possibility of one life just as it enables women to take care of the children they already have and makes possible a desired baby later.”

When individuals have control over when they have children, they are better parents to those children. Both their existing and future children are more likely to have the resources and stability they need to thrive—to live healthily, happily, and successfully, with parents who are financially and emotionally ready to childrear. When we deny people abortion care, we do a disservice to children present and future—and this is unacceptable.

Core tenants of reproductive justice include the right of every person to have children, to not have children, and to parent the children they have with dignity, in safe and healthy environments. When we restrict abortion access, we strip people of their ability to do the latter, to create family, homes and futures in their own vision, and to be the best parents possible.

The anti-choice movement frames itself as one that is primarily concerned about children’s wellbeing, built on protecting the sanctity of life. All children deserve to be well supported, healthy, loved, and to live with opportunity. To deny people abortion care is to deny us not only our bodily autonomy and the right to make our own health care decisions, but to deny children their right to live with all the material and emotional resources they deserve. When we have control over the timing and circumstances of our births, parents and children have greater opportunity to live their best lives possible—and that is what it truly means to be pro-life.

Photo credit: Alex Brandon/Associated Press


Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She is currently pursuing her MPH at NYU's College of Global Public Health and works as Communications Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of New York City. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

Read more about Senti

Join the Conversation