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How does abortion affect women? Now there’s data.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that some state lawmakers have exploited, trying to label abortion providers “non-essential services.” Wherever they have succeeded–as in Texas–women have had to travel long distances to be treated, during a time when they were supposed to be quarantining at home. It’s one more example of lawmakers oppressing and hurting people in the name of “protecting” them.

Opponents of abortion, reluctant anymore to call abortion “murder,” long ago turned to  claiming that abortion has terrible effects on the recipient. Claims that abortion causes physical ill effects (e.g., breast cancer, infertility), mental health problems (depression, anxiety), or lifelong moral regret continue to be used in legislatures and courtrooms as a reason to ban or restrict abortion. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling in Gonzales vs. Carhart (2007) said, “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”

Diana Greene Foster, the principal investigator and author of The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, A Thousand Women, And the Consequences of Having – Or Being Denied – An Abortion, now provides the reliable data that was lacking in 2007. Foster studied people who had obtained abortions close to the gestational limit imposed in their locality, and people who had been refused abortions for having just exceeded that limit. Investigators  interviewed subjects one week later, then every six months for five years. As Foster told Terry Gross in a Fresh Air interview, “We were interested in their mental health, their physical health, their family’s economic well-being, how they were caring for the children they already have and whether they were having more children over the course of the five years.”

In the first six months, people who had been turned away did worse than those who had had abortions–they had greater anxiety, lower self-esteem, and less life satisfaction. Over the longer term, those who had had abortions were better off financially, were less likely to suffer domestic abuse, formed better maternal bonds with subsequent children, and were rarely regretful. Foster told Gross, “We find that 95% of women who receive an abortion later report that it was the right decision for them. So I think it’s a surprising fact people assume that women feel regret. And I think it’s not that they don’t realize that there are moral questions involved, but they’re weighing their whole life responsibilities and plans and decide this is the right decision for them. . . . I think the most important idea that I would like to convey is to correct the idea that abortion is always a hard decision and that women need more time to think about it and that they can’t be trusted to make a decision that’s best for themselves.”

In the interview, Foster goes on to speak movingly about her two grandmothers, both of whom had abortions at a time when it was illegal. We recommend a listen.

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