Takeaways from the UCSF Abortion “Turnaway” Study

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Educational & Research

Part 3 of 5: Spinning the Consequences of Abortion

Editor’s note: As noted last week, researchers the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), lead by Diana Greene Foster, conducted a five year “prospective longitudinal” study beginning in 2008 looking at the repercussions of a woman being “turned away” from an abortion clinic.  According to released summaries of the study, participating clinics turned away about 1% of abortion seekers.

Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

While the lack of a formal published study makes it difficult to do a full analysis, we do know a few details from press coverage, P.R. releases from the website, and conference presentation summaries.

UCSF researchers devote a considerable amount of energy to trying to minimize or deny the physical or psychological consequences of abortion. 

In one presentation, they reported that “physical health complications are more common and severe following birth.” First they cite statistics comparing “limited activity”: 38% of those women giving birth, averaged 10 days of limited activity versus 24% for those women who aborted who averaged 2.7 day of limited activity. They then surprisingly mention complications such as seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage they indicate were associated with those in their study group who did not receive abortion. There is a real dearth of hard data here, but some observations are important to note. 

That a certain number of women would take a few days to recover after birth is hardly news, but this is no indication of any serious or long term problem.  What is news is that nearly a quarter of women having abortions take nearly three days to resume full activity after an abortion. This obviously flies in the face of the industry spin of quick, easy, painless abortions.

Without further details, it is hard to determine precisely what was involved in the pelvic fracture. But this is virtually unheard of in the medical literature, unless one is talking about the management of women who had previous pelvic fractures from automobile accidents, etc.  Many of those women are able to give birth without any problem; those for whom there is a concern are able to deliver by Cesarean.  In any case, it is not at all realistic to talk about this as some standard risk of childbirth.

The citation of hemorrhage and infection as presumably non-fatal complications associated with birth are all the more remarkable given that these have been associated with deaths of patients aborting with RU486, the abortion industry’s latest “innovation.”

As for the seizure mentioned, it is unclear whether this stems from a pre-existing condition such as epilepsy, or from an infrequent pregnancy complication called eclampsia, which can be treated with drugs, careful monitoring, and delivery of the child.  The presentation description does not mention eclampsia.

And while researchers appear to have looked at physical complications most proximate to the birth or abortion event, it is unclear whether they looked for physical problems later on. Many of the “complications” associated with abortion– increased infertility, later ectopic pregnancy, future miscarriages, premature births in subsequent children, and links to breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer– may not be apparent until sometime afterwards .

Researchers claimed that women not receiving abortions had “significantly higher anxiety” than women who did one week after having or being “denied” those abortions. But they go on to say there were no differences in anxiety or depression a year later. 

For those that are familiar with the literature, this involves some sleight-of-hand.  First, it is well known that the initial response of women to abortion is often relief, a sense that the “problem” is taken care of, that life may resume as normal.  And many women , even when welcoming a new child, find the prospect of motherhood a little intimidating, especially in that period before the baby is actually born.

Not surprising is that most of these new mothers adjust well to this new reality a year out, once they have had the opportunity to “learn the ropes” and discover their natural maternal competence. [1] But studies have shown that a year is hardly enough time for a woman to determine she is free of abortion’s psychological repercussions, and there are hints of future problems even in the UCSF research.

Diana Greene Foster and her UCSF team said, as expected, that “relief” was the most common (90%) emotion reported by the women in her study one week after having their abortions.  But she also reported that two-thirds of aborting women felt guilt, and that one-third felt regret, even so soon after their abortions. 

Researchers say that the other women, after being “turned away” from their abortions, but apparently before giving birth, reported higher levels of regret and anger, and lower levels of “relief” and happiness than their aborting counterparts, but interestingly enough, less guilt.  Again, these results are not surprising. These women are dealing with the immediate frustration of having their wishes denied and just coming to terms with their new future but have not yet, as far as we can tell from the data, experienced the joy of having met their child just yet.

Greene Foster and her colleagues assert that, one week out, 97% of aborting women felt they made the right decision, but say that 65% of those “denied” abortions still wished they had been able to obtain them.   

Though we are supposed to be impressed by the high numbers, what is stunning is 1) that between 13 and 14 (3% of the subgroup of 452) of these aborting women were apparently already questioning their decision within a week; and that 2) just one week after their being “denied” abortions, but presumably before actually giving birth, 35% were no longer thinking that abortion was the right decision (or had doubts about it being the right decision in the first place).

What this tells us is that even among women seeking abortion, those convinced that abortion is the “right decision” among what they perceive as their options, there is still some ambiguity, some uncertainty, some doubt, and that, once abortion is off the table, a sizeable percentage of women quickly come to terms with their pregnancy and begin to more positively reassess their situation.

No data is given here as to how these women “turned away” from abortion viewed their inclination to abort once they gave birth.  One suspects that the percentage thinking abortion the “right decision” dropped considerably more once they met their babies.

[1] Researchers say that the women giving birth were more likely to report feeling that they “have more to do than they can get done” but this is a common complaint of any responsible parent.] 

You can read the prior two posts at www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2013/01/takeaways-from-the-ucsf-abortion-turnaway-study; and www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2013/01/takeaways-from-the-ucsf-abortion-turnaway-study-2/