A groundbreaking new study has shed light on a horrific consequence of denying abortions to victims of domestic violence: It binds them to violent partners.
From 2008-2010, the Turnaway Study examined the effects of unwanted pregnancies on women’s lives and what happens to women who aren’t able to obtain the abortions they want. The findings, published in BMC Medicine, reveal a strong correlation between abortion access and remaining in abusive relationships.
Researchers found that incidents of violence declined among women who were able to have an abortion, but not among women who carried their pregnancies to term. When women are denied an abortion – often because they are over the legal gestational limit – the abusive men are likely to remain in their lives.
Image credit: BMC Medicine
According to demographer and principal investigator Diana Green Foster, “being unable to have the abortion tethered women to violent men, while women who have the abortion were more able to escape abusive relationships.”
Foster illustrated these findings with the stories of two study subjects, Alicia and Beth, whose stories help put a human touch to statistics:
Alicia, who was denied the abortion and consequently gave birth to a baby, considered the man a boyfriend at the time of conception. Six months later their relationship was no longer romantic.
Still, she had ongoing contact with him and described episodes of violence at both one year and two years after seeking an abortion. At one point, she reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that she attributed to being attacked by the man and from the stress of having had her child taken temporarily by the police.
Beth gave, as her reason for having the abortion, that she “did not want to have any part in [the man’s] life any more. “I have been mentally abused by [him] daily, and I didn’t want to have a child with him.” Beth and the man were engaged at the time of conception. She was still in contact with him six months later after the abortion, but they were not romantically involved. She reported no ongoing contact with him at two years.
The study’s findings validate these women’s fears. As Foster explained, “Those fears were unfortunately borne out in the lived experiences of some of the women who were denied abortions who experience continued violence. In other words, these women were right.”
The study becomes all the more distressing in light of lawmakers’ insistence on restricting women’s access to abortion. From mandatory 72-hour waiting periods to forced ultrasounds and “sidewalk counseling,” women face medically unnecessary obstacles in their attempts to obtain reproductive health care. Adding insult to injury, these tactics rest on the assumption that women aren’t able to make informed decisions about terminating pregnancies.
This study shatters that fallacy. The women proved quite capable in determining whether abortion was the right decision for them. It’s just a matter of access.