Abortion is Good for Children. You Heard Right.

As you inevitably consume the news cycle (and try not to get consumed by it), keep this in mind: Nearly 60% of people who have abortions are already parents. This statistic challenges anti-choice portrayals about who has abortions, and it also prompts the question: what do we know about the children of women who have had abortions? And conversely, what about the kids born to women who weren’t able to access abortion?

In 2016, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) released the results of the Turnaway Study. All of the 1,000 women who participated in the study were seeking abortion, but only some were able to access them. Those who were denied abortion care indicated decreased states of mental health, including the presence of anxiety and depression. The women who were able to get the abortion care they sought had positive mental health outcomes. In short, getting an abortion didn’t negatively impact subjects’ mental health, but if a woman couldn’t get the abortion she wanted, her mental health did suffer. (If you’re keeping track, that’s a direct refutation of the anti-choice claim that abortion causes harm to women’s mental health).

But this result was just part of the Turnaway Study. In 2019, ANSIRH released more results, specifically about what happened to the children of women who received a wanted abortion vs. those who could not access an abortion. “We wanted to know if there was a difference in outcome for kids,” says Dr. Diana Greene Foster, ANSIRH’s Director of Research and the leader on the Turnaway Study. “What are the benefits to kids if the mother has favorable circumstances for childbirth?”

Here’s what the study revealed: If a woman with existing children is unable to access a desired abortion and proceeds to give birth and keep the child (which 90% of women in the Turnaway Study opted to do), her existing children are more likely to live below the poverty line, and to live in a situation where basic needs, such as food, housing and transportation, can’t be met. This group was evaluated alongside children born to women who had indeed been able to get a desired abortion, and then went on to give birth to a wanted child later. Let’s take this opportunity to bust another anti-choice myth here—that abortions have a negative impact on one’s ability to have children in the future. The women in the Turnaway Study who had abortions were more likely to go on to have intended pregnancies within the next five years, as opposed to the women who were unable to have their wanted abortions.

The benefits were clear: These children were compared to the next children born to women who received the abortion they wanted. Not only were the children of women who could not access abortion in greater economic peril, but they were also more delayed in terms of their development, and their mothers reported feelings of being trapped, resenting these children, and poor maternal bonding. Women who had children after being able to get an abortion did not report poor maternal bonding.)

While the ANSIRH study’s data was limited to studying children born 5 years after the abortion, it’s possible that there are even more far reaching benefits to children when women are able to access a wanted abortion, the result of greater financial stability and secure relationships.

“Women are able to decide if a pregnancy is right for them and their children,” says Greene-Foster, who also points out a wanted pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean it was planned, since strategizing around conception is a pretty significant endeavor. “Everyone wants children to be well-off, and born into households that can afford them, and this study supports the idea that abortion can be beneficial to future and existing children.”