Abortion in the United States is at its lowest level since 1973, but women who are denied abortions are left with a devastating economic burden, ongoing research finds. While a study by the Guttmacher Institute published last week shows that the number of abortions fell to the lowest number since the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision 41 years ago, half of pregnancies among American women are still unintended, and 21 percent of pregnancies (not counting miscarriages) end in abortion. Women who have no choice but to go ahead with their pregnancies are faced with both a emotional and financial cost, according to one prominent researcher.
Tracy Weitz, an abortion researcher, spoke with ProPublica about a study investigating the outcomes for women who are refused abortions. She found that the main reason women are terminating their pregnancies is because they can't afford to have a child. Those women, Weitz said, are correct: the cost of raising a child until age 18 is an eye-watering $241,080, according to a Department of Agriculture report published last year.
"Two years later, women who had a baby they weren't expecting to have, compared to the women who had the abortion they wanted, are three times more likely to be living in poverty," Weitz said.
Weitz's research is part of the Turnaway Study, an ongoing look into the long-term effects for women unable to get the abortions they sought out. The study recruited women with unintended pregnancies who lived someplace where every abortion clinic within 150-mile radius had the same gestational limit.
"If a woman was turned away from [a] facility, she really had no other option. She probably was going to have that baby," Weitz said.
1,000 women are part of the study. Half were just under the gestational limit when they reached the clinic, so they were able to have the abortion they wanted. About 250 of the women were refused an abortion and had a baby, and another quarter are women who received first-trimester abortions.
"The study has really exposed how hard it is to be a parent in this country. It is a huge economic investment. And if you don't have the economic resources to be a parent, there's nothing to help you," Weitz said.
The study is also looking into how women feel about mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion, and why some women feel regret after the procedure.
"I want everyone to have every tool in their toolbox to be able to have a family, when and if they want to. Any of those strategies are legitimate strategies. That includes abortion," Weitz said.
The rate of abortion also shows troubling variations along racial and class lines. While the abortion rate fell overall by 18 percent between 2000 and 2008, numbers among low-income women rose by 18 percent, writes Eyal Press in The New Yorker. The rate of unintended pregnancies was also five times higher among poor women, according to another Guttmacher study.
Abortion remains an ever-controversial topic that is already following candidates into political races set for the Fall. Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, who is running for Governor, and who famously filibustered an abortion bill in the state last year, told the Dallas Morning News that she actually would have supported one of those restrictions she stood up against. Davis said she would have supported the 20-week ban on abortion if the bill had been written differently, by deferring to a woman and her doctor in making the decision.