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Though it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen to abortion access if Roe v. Wade is overturned, demographer Diana Greene Foster does know what happens when someone is denied an abortion. She documented it in her groundbreaking yearslong research project, The Turnaway Study and her findings provide insight into the ways getting an abortion – or being denied one – affects a person’s mental health and economic wellbeing.
For over 10 years, Dr. Foster and her team of researchers tracked the experiences of women who’d received abortions or who had been denied them because of clinic policies on gestational age limits.
The research team regularly interviewed each of nearly 1,000 women for five years and found those who’d been denied abortion experienced worse economic and mental health outcomes than the cohort that received care. And 95% of study participants who received an abortion said they made the right decision.
The idea for the Turnaway Study emerged from a 2007 Supreme Court abortion case, Gonzales v. Carhart. In the majority opinion upholding a ban on a specific procedure used rarely in later abortions, Justice Anthony Kennedy speculated that abortions led to poor mental health. “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,” he wrote. “Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.”
Kennedy’s speculation — and admitted lack of evidence — captured Foster’s attention, “because you can’t make policy based on assumptions of what seems reasonable without talking to a representative sample of people who actually wanted an abortion,” she said. The Turnaway Study fact-checked the justice’s guess, finding that not having a wanted