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Politics & Policy

A Flawed Study Claims that Few Women Regret Abortion

(Katie Yoder/National Review)

This week, a new study was released, which purports to show that few women regret their decision to obtain an abortion. The study was published in the academic journal Social Science and Medicine and is the latest study to be released as part of the Turnaway Project, which compares a cohort of women who obtained abortions with a separate cohort of women who were unable to obtain abortions due to gestational age limits.

This newest study based on that data has received a great deal of sympathetic coverage from a number of media outlets including the Washington Post, The Hill, The Guardian, and CNN. But most of the coverage has paid little or no attention to the limitations of the research. For one thing, the Turnaway study is conducted by the group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California San Francisco, which typically produces research with a pro-abortion bias.

From 2008 to 2010, Turnaway Project researchers sought participants at more than 30 abortion facilities located in 21 U.S. states and found 667 women who obtained abortions to participate.  However, less than 38 percent of the women they asked actually agreed to take part 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.

Additionally, the Turnaway study tracked study participants over a five-year time period. Over time, a significant percentage of the women who originally agreed to participate either could no longer be contacted or refused to answer follow-up surveys. The new Social Science and Medicine article tries to downplay this fact, stating that 71 percent of the women completed an interview in the final two years of the study. However, a 2017 article in JAMA Psychiatry that used Turnaway-study data indicated that only 58.4 percent of participants had responded to a survey five years after it began. This information further skews the results, as it is likely that women who disappeared from the survey were experiencing more psychological suffering than women who responded.

Interestingly, another recent study adds to the body of research showing that some women do suffer psychologically after obtaining an abortion. Paul Sullins of the Catholic University of America published an article last November in the Swiss journal Medicina. This study was unique because it was able to analyze results from women who obtained abortions of wanted pregnancies. Such abortions typically occur when the mother wants the child but obtained an abortion after being pressured by either her parents or her partner. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health, the Sullins study found that any abortion increased the risk of depression, anxiety, or suicidality, but the risk was much higher following an abortion of one or more wanted pregnancies. Of course, studies of this sort typically receive scant media coverage.



Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New


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