By Dave Andrusko
Say this for the militantly, unapologetically pro-abortion researchers at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California-San Francisco. Has anyone ever taken one study—its infamous “Turnaway Study”—and generated more subsequent “academic” followup and mounds of slavishly favorable media coverage? The answer may well be no.
The latest “study” (as did most of its predecessors) simply mined once again research first published in 2013 all in service of its goal: to argue that because virtually no woman supposedly regrets her abortion, state informed consent laws are not only not helpful to women but detrimental.
Over time, the researchers conducted multiple phone interview with 667 women who had abortions in 21 states. Periodically, they would crank out a report with the same message: women do not regret their abortions. Thus no need to provide for a period of reflection before a woman makes a life and death decision for her baby.
Typical headlines for the study published in Social Science & Medicine that came out last week (as Katie Yoder noted) included “Debunking the ‘abortion regret’ narrative”; “Most Women Don’t Regret Abortions. Why Would They?”; and “99% of Women Say They Feel Relief, Not Regret, 5 Years After Having an Abortion.”
Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon has debunked the original “Turnaway” study and various of its progeny in massive detail. Here are just five reasons why the conclusion of the latest study—“These results add to the scientific evidence that emotions about an abortion are associated with personal and social context, and are not a product of the abortion procedure itself. Findings challenge the rationale for policies regulating access to abortion that are premised on emotional harm claims”—is not supported by their own data.
1. Note a very important element of this study. Despite being part of the larger “Turnaway Study” that has been going on for years, this one did not interview women who were “denied” abortions and had their babies. This latest study was confined to women who did abort. So no data here about the women who did not abort but gave birth.
How did these women feel about their outcomes? This a critical flaw which is barely even addressed in passing. But we will, in just a moment.
2. Entrenched bias. To quote Dr. O’Bannon, “If Planned Parenthood is America’s abortion chain and the Guttmacher Institute its source of statistics, then UCSF has long been the nation’s abortion training academy.” These are not non-partisans—although as is always, that truth never makes it into the reporting.
The study’s authors barely bother to conceal their agenda anymore. To quote the Washington Post’s story (arguably the fairest because it actually included a critic)
The study authors also weighed in on the political implications of their work. They wrote that their findings “challenge the rationale for state-mandated counseling protocols … and other policies regulating access to abortion premised on emotional harm claims (e.g. waiting periods.).”
3. Even Corinne Rocca, the lead author of the study, had trouble explaining away the most obvious shortcoming: a 38% participation rate. The Post’s Ariana Eunjung Cha] cited a study in the Catholic Medical Association written by David Reardon, who highlighted
how more than two-thirds of the women approached for the study refused to participate. Of those who agreed, half dropped out. Those who reported the highest rates of relief and happiness were the ones most likely to remain, he argued. Those who reported the least relief were most likely to drop out, he said.
4. It need not be belabored because it is self-evidently and experientially true that many women do indeed experience regret and more serious psychological sequelae after their abortions. This is something that anyone in our movement who has ever met or worked with aborting women can tell you is painfully real. As much research has demonstrated over decades, regret (and more extreme responses) over having had an abortion often does not manifest themselves for decades.
5. The objective of the original “Turnaway” study was to demonstrate that women who were denied abortions (typically because their pregnancy was so advanced—something not emphasized in the research) were worse off than had they undergone an abortion. Data from that group of women is missing from this latest study.
We know from other sources that, in fact, many of those women turned away came to see the outcome — often a born baby — in a positive light. If the UCSF researcher’s premise is correct, something close to 100% of the women “denied” an abortion should have seen that kind of outcome as negative. But they were barely even discussed here.
Back to those who did abort and were repeatedly interviewed. Should it surprise us that people who have made big decisions and have to live with them would tend to defend the rightness of those decisions? Doesn’t it tend to tilt the outcome when you know that the people conducting the survey are looking for positive responses and giving free $50 gift certificates each time you do the survey?
Are we getting an authentic measure of people’s self evaluation of their decisions when a very selective sample of women is surveyed under these conditions (have we even determined whether or not self evaluations should be an appropriate moral, social, or psychological standard)? No.
To return to my initial point, the Post’s Ariana Eunjung Cha wrote that “ Fifty articles have been published from the data.” This ground has been plowed multiple times. The initial crop—how the “Turnaway Study” was first presented–was impoverished. Subsequent tilling have proven to be even more barren.