UCSF Turnaway Study Shows Impact of Abortion Access on Well-Being

An unrecognizable woman looks down at a pregnancy test

A groundbreaking study conducted by UC San Francisco reveals the long-term adverse effects of unwanted pregnancy on people’s lives, pointing to widespread challenges that will result from the US Supreme Court ruling to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

UCSF’s landmark Turnaway Study found that more than 95 percent of people who chose to have abortions reported that it was the right decision for them, when interviewed over the next five years. There was also no evidence of mental health problems among study participants following an abortion. However, those who were unable to have abortions because they were past the gestational limit suffered from adverse effects such as serious physical and mental health challenges, economic hardship, lack of support and insecurity.

The study also found that those who sought and received an abortion were more financially stable, set more ambitious life goals, raised children under more stable conditions, and were more likely to have a wanted child later.

“This study has been really important,” said Diana Greene Foster, PhD, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences who led the study. “It provided the evidence that was missing on the consequences of abortion access for people’s health and well-being.”

Foster, a demographer and the director of research at UCSF’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) program, added that despite more than 50 scientific papers published because of the study, her own award-winning book on the study, and the study forming the basis of legal briefs at the Supreme Court and elsewhere, the national conversation remains stuck on ideological and political considerations.

“The debate about abortion rarely focuses on what happens to the pregnant person,” she said. “It’s framed as an abstract moral question in which everyone else weighs in without considering why someone would be in the circumstances where they want an abortion – and what happens to them and their lives when they can’t get one.”

Study Shows Better Outcomes with Abortion Access

In the Turnaway Study, researchers followed 1,000 women from 30 centers around the country for five years – some a few days under a clinic’s gestational limit, and therefore able to receive an abortion, and some who were a few days over the limit and therefore were denied from getting an abortion.

Among those who were denied an abortion, the study found that individuals reported more life-threatening complications from the end of pregnancy, such as eclampsia and infections. Over the longer term, those who were denied an abortion and subsequently gave birth reported worse health and greater chronic pain compared to those who were able to terminate their pregnancy.

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