Here’s what happens when women are refused abortions.

They’re poorer. They’re less likely to leave abusive relationships. Their health suffers. In other words, women who don’t want to continue pregnancies probably know their own lives better than politicians.

The women in the Turnaway Study were in comparable economic positions at the time they sought abortions. In the Turnaway group, 45% were on public assistance and two-thirds had household incomes below the federal poverty level. One of the main reasons women cite for wanting to abort is money, and based on the outcomes for the turnaways, it seems they are right.

Most of the women who were denied an abortion, 86%, were living with their babies a year later. Only 11% had put them up for adoption. Also a year later, they were far more likely to be on public assistance — 76% of the turnaways were on the dole, as opposed to 44% of those who got abortions. 67% percent of the turnaways were below the poverty line (vs. 56% of the women who got abortions), and only 48% had a full time job (vs. 58% of the women who got abortions).

Pro-life Republicans, you will remember, are very hostile to welfare spending (as are some Democrats).

One of the most striking aspects of this study is the domestic violence issue. Women who were refused abortions were more likely to experience domestic violence than women who had abortions — not because they were more likely to get involved with an abuser, but because being refused an abortion meant they were less likely to leave him. Abortion, simply, was one route that women were able to use to get control of their lives, and that enabled them to more easily leave an abusive partner. Once a child was involved, leaving was predictably more difficult. For all the admonishments to “protect your child,” it’s worth noting that abusers routinely threaten (and often carry out) violence against children if the mother leaves; a shared child also means that leaving will require protracted court battles and custody issues and the chance of losing your kid to your abuser or the state. The United States is a country where rapists are given custody and visitation rights to their children. We live in a country where being battered is the most common cause of injury to women. And seventy-five percent of victims are killed when they attempt to leave the relationship or after the relationship has ended. It’s obvious why a woman with a new child might be less confident in leaving an abusive situation.

Turnaways were more likely to stay in a relationship with an abusive partner than women who got abortions. A year after being denied an abortion, 7% reported an incident of domestic violence in the last six months. 3% of women who received abortions reported domestic violence in the same time period. Green emphasized that this wasn’t because the turnaways were more likely to get into abusive relationships. It was simply that getting abortions allowed women to get out of such relationships more easily. So it’s likely that these numbers actually reflect a dropoff in domestic violence for women who get abortions, rather than a rise among turnaways.

This pattern of violence is also part of a larger pattern that shows turnaways are more likely to remain in relationships with the fathers of their children. Obviously, this isn’t always a good thing, as the violence statistics reveal. But even in the vast majority of cases where violence isn’t involved, Greene noted that these men aren’t living with the turnaways. The researchers asked women about cohabiting with partners, and found that men were no more likely to live with a turnaway who’d borne their children than they were to live with a woman who had an abortion. “The man doesn’t stick around just because you have the baby — that’s the crude way of putting it,” Green said.

Finally, abortion caused no mental health complications and no major physical complications. The same was not true of childbirth:

We find physical health complications are more common and severe following birth (38% experience limited activity, average 10 days) compared to abortion (24% limited activity, average 2.7 days). There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage. We find no differences in chronic health conditions at 1 week or one year after seeking abortion.

Childbirth is often physically difficult; it’s often physically impairing and sometimes deadly. It’s not something that should be entered into by way of state force. When women are forced by the state to continue pregnancies they don’t want and know they can’t handle, they’re worse off in the long term. And after the baby is born, there’s no team of “pro-life” politicians rooting for them.

Author: has written 5268 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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29 Responses

  1. RoryBorealis
    RoryBorealis November 16, 2012 at 12:31 am |

    Nicely put. It would seem that the anti-choicers consider all of these terrible effects a feature, not a bug.

    1. William
      William November 16, 2012 at 10:31 am |

      This. Opposition to abortion is not about welfare, its not about babies, its not about life, its not about morals. Opposition to abortion in the United States is the sole product of a regressive and oppressive religious minority attempting to inflict the sick demands of their dying god institutionalize forms of oppression which are likely to promote the kinds of social interactions they deem proper.

    2. bleh
      bleh November 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm |

      Yes, anti-abortion sentiment and the laws that follow are meant to make women stay in their place by making or keeping them poor, dependent upon (sometimes abusive) men, and without choices. Not an accident.

  2. Foxy
    Foxy November 16, 2012 at 2:06 am |

    Perhaps usa should impose sanctions on ireland and other countries where abortion is banned

    1. Li
      Li November 16, 2012 at 2:54 am |

      I cannot tell if the tear I just shed was from amusement or sadness.

    2. ashley
      ashley November 16, 2012 at 10:21 am |

      Perhaps other countries should impose sanctions on the US for the increasing number of restrictions on abortion and the presence of anti-choice terrorists within its borders.

  3. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth November 16, 2012 at 6:21 am |

    What are legislators doing to crack down on abusers and rapists and getting rape kits actually processed? How about defunding Viagra?

    1. BabyRaptor
      BabyRaptor November 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |

      Well, pro-forced birth champion Sarah Palin made rape victims pay for their own kits. Does that count? /sarcasm

  4. Michelle
    Michelle November 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm |

    Excellent post, but it needs a major correction. You state that “And seventy-five percent of victims are killed when they attempt to leave the relationship or after the relationship has ended.” The actual statistic is that of the women who are killed in domestic violence relationships, 75% are killed after leaving or attempting to leave.

    As someone who just completed the divorce and custody process from an abusive relationship with a child under 2, I would also say to anyone in that position that most courts will not give overnight visitation to anyone other than the primary caregiver (almost always the mother) with a child that small. If you have pressed charges or have any other evidence of abuse (even if it was only against you, and not the child), they will also likely require 3rd party supervised visitation if you ask for it, and he will have the burden of paying for that 3rd party.

    I understand this article is trying to highlight the consequences of preventing abortion, and is stating what women fear rather than what actually happens, but for women who are looking into this topic because they are thinking about getting out, it’s important not to overstate the possible negative consequences.

  5. Clytemnestra's Sister
    Clytemnestra's Sister November 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm |

    Once again, this underlines just how profound the effect of controlling fertility is for keeping women out of poverty. Abortion, along with good contraception and sterliization for women who have finished childbearing, is part of controlling fertility.

    Given how the majority of women seeking an abortion already have a child, I’d be interested in seeing data from that study showing just how much of an impact the new baby has on the finances of the family.

  6. (BFing)Sarah
    (BFing)Sarah November 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm |

    This is a very timely read for me. I just finished doing some volunteering–which involves calling women who are in crisis (for health reasons) pregnancy. Their health crisis usually (by this I mean like 100% of the calls we get are from women in dire financial straights) leads to financial crisis–or they were already struggling and this just made it worse. Talking to these women makes me feel all kinds of upset but mainly today I was thinking 1) Why would anyone be anti-abortion in this situation?? And the answer I keep coming up with over and over again is religion. Religion. Religion is holding women back from making that choice. “God” tells many women that yet another unplanned pregnancy is part of “his plan” for their life. “God” is the reason why they must give birth and not have an abortion before their health is put at risk b/c of the pregnancy. Religion keeps them from making choices that might help them and their other children get into a more steady financial position. “God” is the reason why we have an entire party dedicated to making it harder for women to control their bodies and make reproductive choices. Religion is the reason why we are encouraging abstinence instead of giving every person with the desire the birth control of their choice for free. Religion is why women are made to feel guilty once they have an unwanted pregnancy, instead of encouraging them to realize that life is not over and that abortion is a valid and GOOD option. Guilt because of god is the reason why many women decide that “they made their bed” so now they “have to lie in it (ie: be punished for life)”. “God” is supposedly why its okay to be a part of a party that is anti-choice and also supports bumper stickers that say “The Government Is NOT Your Baby’s Daddy.” (Yes, this is real.) Because the only “good” choice according to “God” and some right wingers is for women to stay “chaste” until marriage, locking her into a relationship with a man (that’s the only way, doncha know?) for life without any knowledge of how he will treat her sexually and otherwise for the rest of her life. Any other choice brands you a slut that doesn’t deserve government help. The moment a woman finds herself pregnant unexpectedly she is screwed. Have an abortion? Then she’s a murdering slut. Have the child? Then she is a slutty welfare ‘queen’. Give the kid up for adoption and then you are opening up another whole can of worms that warrants another whole post…it might win the approval of the religious, but at what risk? I’m all for adoption, but I know that it is not an easy path for all adoptees or birth mothers. The point is: the moment a woman veers from the path that the religious right (and other republicans as well) have designated as the “correct” path, she loses all claim to humanity. No one can feel sorry for her anymore, apparently. And her child? The child is born hated. A dependent from birth, no fault of zir own. Its BULLSHIT. If god and the anti-choicers want women to have babies so badly, they should maybe come up with a way to support them when they are placed on strict bedrest and lose their damn jobs, homes, and ability to care for themselves or their children. Where are they then? The baby isn’t even freaking born yet and they are already abandoned by the people that supposedly already consider them a “life” worth living. Fuck. That.

    Sorry for the rant, I’m pissed about this today.

  7. Foxy
    Foxy November 17, 2012 at 12:06 am |

    Yes there is no difference between ireland and usa in abortion laws seriously

  8. Yvonne
    Yvonne November 17, 2012 at 3:25 am |

    Every single time I ask an Anti choicer ( I choke on the phrase ‘pro life, because they are not) how many children they foster I get no answer. They only care about power over another. I have yet to meet, or even hear of, an anti choicer who actually cares for children not their own once they are born.

    1. Clytemnestra's Sister
      Clytemnestra's Sister November 18, 2012 at 8:12 am |

      My brother actually does that, whenever he encounters the forced-pregnancy brigade. After he asks them how many they’ve fostered or adopted, he asks them whether they’ve paid for her prenatal care (so that the fetus is more likely to be a healthy baby), whether they’ll drive her to and from the clinic, and whether they will help the pregnant woman with bills when she can’t work because she’s either too pregnant or has just delivered. After that, when they are all too speechless, he asks if they will support laws to teach evidence-based sex ed, or to make contraception more widely available, etc.

      Their response? Always, “You’re evil.” No reasoned response, just…he’s evil.

      I find it deeply ironic that people who wave around the personal responsibility banner only wave that banner when they think it’s responsibility somebody else should take.

  9. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated November 17, 2012 at 9:20 am |

    This is not about spirituality, it’s about hostage sex and free housekeeping. These boys don’t plan to pay much child support, in an economy where most women work. They intend to spend their bucks on highs, football bets, and sex outside the relationshit while the hostage foots all the bills.
    They. Don’t. Care. History has proven it.

    1. (BFing)Sarah
      (BFing)Sarah November 17, 2012 at 11:15 am |

      It is about spirituality. See above. This is anecdata, but I’m comfortable with it. When you ask a woman why she wouldn’t consider having an abortion even though she is on the verge of homelessness and already impoverished and raising a child or two with little to no help from anyone, what is the reason usually given? In my experience its a variation of “god’s plan” or “made my bed (I have sinned), now I have to lie in it (now I have to face the consequences)” guilt bullshit. If it is god’s plan for a woman to get pregnant for the third time, be put on bedrest for a life-threatening condition, lose your job b/c you can’t work, and get evicted then “he” is a shitty, shitty planner…and an asshole. You can’t take god out of this equation. I’m sorry. Yes, men sometimes don’t step up to take care of their children…but if you choose to have a baby and you don’t need the father/sperm donor involved b/c you are comfortable doing it alone then that is not a problem. The problem is not a lack of fathers. Lots of people don’t have fathers. Women can go it alone and women can parent with other women or with a group of family and friends. Its not a lack of fathers that is the problem. Women need to be encouraged to make the choice that works best for THEM in their situation. They need to NOT be guilted into having a baby that they don’t want, can’t afford, and that is just a punishment for their “sins”.

      1. Mike
        Mike November 20, 2012 at 9:16 pm |

        I will second pretty much everything you just said, except that I do think that a lack of a responsible model for fatherhood in our society is at least part of the problem. It is definitely possible for women to raise children alone or with outside support, but that presents challenges to both the woman and the children that would not exist if a good father was in the picture. That said, I would definitely think most families are better off with no father than an irresponsible or abusive one.

        1. Mike
          Mike November 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm |

          Sorry, I just reread my comment and wanted to clarify; I am saying this not to blame women for raising children without a father, I just think that fewer women would make this choice (or be forced to) if our society had a more robust and mature dialogue about fatherhood and expectations for fathers

    2. yes
      yes November 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm |

      I like the way you cloud up a really clearly on-sided issue about bodily autonomy and oppression with fratboy fanfiction here. :)

  10. rox
    rox November 25, 2012 at 9:02 pm |

    You know, I gave birth while in terrible circumstance because I believed my daughter existed and could feel. I am pro-choice and I do not expect other women to feel the same about their pregnancies or what causes them to see living beings as worthy of life or not. This world is cold and merciless and to live we must take the lives of at least plants. I respect peoples rights (up to a point) to make decisions about worthiness of life, particlarly if the entity in question is inside their own body.

    BUT– I think it’s extremely disrespectful to claim that women who choose to give birth in dire circumstances are innately wrong in believing the entity inside them has meaning, can feel, and should be born. I was athiest at the time of my first pregnancy, vegetarian, andvery concerned for the feeling nature of living beings (including plants, but hey, I have to live).

    What I mean to say is, that I don’t see how it’s empowering to women to DEFINE for them that not getting an abortion when circumstances aretough is a sign they are delusional.

    Smart, good women get abortions when they are unprepared to parent. Bad deluded women birth children in poverty and difficult circumstances.

    Funny because I should hope feminism might take pity on women who become parents the “respectable” way, while equipped to parent and having planned the sex responsable– and THEN face a crisis with their children in tow. No one believes that when a crisis happens it’s inherently better to take the kids out instead of doing everything you can to help them through it.

    Yet women who believe a life, even with a difficult start, might be worth living, get the same amount shaming and ostrasizing from liberals as they get from the religious right for failing to stop sexual abuse.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune November 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm |

      This. This shit. This shit on a thread about women whose lives were significantly negatively impacted by NOT getting abortions they WANTED, who DID NOT WANT BAYBEEZ, no sirree bob, but had to have them because of misogynistic assholes. This shit on a thread about UNWANTED pregnancies and DENIED ABORTIONS. This shit which, by the everfucking way, was not remotely stated or implied in the original article for you to get on your elevated equine about. How is a discussion about women who WANTED ABORTIONS judging women who DON’T WANT ABORTIONS?

      I’m not actually angry, I’m just capslocking because you seem to be incapable of reading little letters or big words.

      Oh, wait, I’m multitasking – I’m also capslocking because I’m angry.

    2. amblingalong
      amblingalong November 25, 2012 at 9:24 pm |

      In what possible universe would this be an appropriate response to the story of someone being literally murdered by anti-abortion laws? For fuck’s sake, the whole “sure abortion is fine I guess but the real issue is how much those meanie liberals hate women who love babies” derail is pretty fucking transparent.

    3. tomek
      tomek November 25, 2012 at 9:36 pm |

      if you think is plant living being then beyond help you are

      1. PrettyAmiable
        PrettyAmiable November 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm |

        I can see the confusion. Without electricity, how can plants and flowers come to life?

        1. tomek
          tomek November 25, 2012 at 9:59 pm |

          plant live but it is not being. it is going through biological process only. human and animal have brain to have being status.no brain no thanks

          this why is artificial intelligent not life in true. because it borne of electricity only and algorithem. however what if make computer which think and learn like human just electric not biology? it is life? it deserve rights? what diffrentiat us from other biological process? how consciousnes formed — it come about from brain only or is from soul ??

      2. amblingalong
        amblingalong November 26, 2012 at 12:27 am |

        if you think is plant living being then beyond help you are

        Yoda? Is that you?

    4. EG
      EG November 25, 2012 at 9:58 pm |

      What on earth does this have to do with the post?

  11. rox
    rox November 26, 2012 at 10:00 am |

    I was responding to comments in the post that women in difficult circumstances who choose not to have abortions could only be choosing to do so because of religious brainwashing.

    I eat plants, and animals, and yes I think it’s sad that humans have to take the lives of other beings to live. I think abortion is sad, but I deeply respect women’s rights to decide if it is necessary.

    I just feel that in the comments of this thread it was unecessary to label all women who choose to give birth in dire circumstance as delusional and religiously brainwashed. It DOES feed an attitude that harms me personally and I don’t think it’s necessary to insult women who believe a fetus can feel in order to defend the right for women to decide an abortion might be necessary.

  12. Link Love (04/12/2012) « Becky's Kaleidoscope

    [...] don’t want to continue pregnancies probably know their own lives better than politicians.” Here’s what happens when women are refused abortions - Feministe & What happens to women denied abortions? [...]

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