Study claiming 95% of women don't regret their abortions 'flawed,' pro-life researcher says

A pro-choice demonstrator stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2021, during the oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. | Christian Post/Nicole Alcindor

With the U.S. Supreme Court possibly about to overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion nationwide, a study that purportedly shows what happens when women are denied abortions has garnered renewed attention by the media. But pro-lifers warn that the study's flawed methodology casts doubt on many of its conclusions. 

Demographer Diana Greene Foster and her research team conducted The Turnaway Study from 2008 to 2010. The study asked 30 abortion facilities throughout the country to select 1,000 women who had abortions or were "turned away" and gave birth due to being beyond the gestational limit as study subjects. 

After interviewing study participants for five years, researchers concluded that women who were denied abortions experienced worse economic and mental health outcomes than those who had abortions. The study states it found no evidence that abortion has negative side effects on women's emotional well-being, claiming that 95% of participants who had abortions felt it was the right decision. 

Diana Greene Foster did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment, but in a Tuesday interview with National Public Radio about the court's pending ruling in a Mississippi abortion case, she said: "The Turnaway Study was not designed with this moment in mind, because in my worst nightmares, I did not imagine that we would see an end of Roe so quickly." 

The nation's highest court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks on whether to uphold Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. According to a May 2 Politico report, a leaked draft opinion shows that a majority of the justices are potentially poised to overturn Roe. A statement by the court issued the following day verified the draft's authenticity but clarified it does not reflect the final ruling.

"But what The Turnaway Study shows is that people who become pregnant and are unable to get a safe, legal abortion in their state, those that carry the pregnancy to term will experience long-term physical health and economic harm," Foster said.

Michael J. New, researcher and associate scholar at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told The Christian Post there are "legitimate concerns" about the Turnaway Study's methodology. 

"Furthermore, the findings do not necessarily support the narrative that women who carry pregnancies to term fare less well than women who obtained abortions," New wrote in an emailed response to The Christian Post on Friday.  

One key methodological concern the pro-life researcher noted is that less than 38% of the women researchers approached agreed to participate in the study. 

"It seems likely that the women who made themselves available for the study might have had either a higher level of decisional certainty or fewer moral qualms about obtaining an abortion, skewing the results," he wrote. 

Another issue is that many of the women who originally agreed to participate did not respond to follow-up surveys, according to New. He pointed to a 2017 JAMA Psychiatry journal that used the Turnaway Study's data, showing only 58.4% of participants had responded to a survey five years after the study began.

"This information further skews the results, as it is likely that women who disappeared from the survey were faring less well economically, physically and emotionally than those who responded," New wrote. 

The pro-life researcher acknowledged that there is some evidence that in the short term, women who have their children fare less well economically than their counterparts who had abortions. However, he noted that the Turnaway Study's data actually shows these numbers "diminish over time." 

"For instance, five years later, the poverty rate for women who carried pregnancies to term is nearly identical to the poverty rate for women who obtained abortions," he wrote. 

New also highlighted an issue with the media's coverage of the study, as many are often quick to report on the study's claim that a high percentage of participants did not regret their abortions five years later. For example, a 2020 Forbes article titled, "Women Overwhelmingly Don't Regret Abortion, Research Finds. But Denying Them Care Is Costly," highlighted the study's reported mental health findings, as did a CNN article released that same year.

"However, what receives almost no attention from mainstream media outlets is the attitudes of women who sought abortions but did not obtain one — the turnaways," New explained.

The Turnaway Study found that five years later, only 4% of women denied an abortion wished they could have had one, New noted. 

"One week after abortion denial, 65% of participants reported still wishing they could have had the abortion; after the birth, only 12% of women reported that they still wished that they could have had the abortion," Foster's 2020 book containing the results of the study reads. "At the time of the child's first birthday, 7% still wished they could have had an abortion. By five years, this went down to 4%."

New said this means "96 percent of women who sought abortions but did not obtain one appear satisfied."

Diana Greene Foster did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment.

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