“Think Being a Teen Parent Won’t Cost You?” beg the NYC subways ads . When the puffy-eyed girl says, “Honestly Mom . . . chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” most New Yorkers will not take it as a plea for abstinence.
We hear from the women who choose not to have abortions and those who do, but yesterday’s New York Times story asks ” What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortions? ” It profiles a girl, referred to as S., who was turned away from a Planned Parenthood clinic because she was too far along in her pregnancy. Dr. Diana Greene Foster has spearheaded an extensive scientific study to gather data on women like S.: the “turnaway” women. The study is scheduled to be published this fall.
Most studies on the effects of abortion compare women who have abortions with those who choose to carry their pregnancies to term. It is like comparing people who are divorced with people who stay married, instead of people who get the divorce they want with the people who dont. Foster saw this as a fundamental flaw. By choosing the right comparison groupswomen who obtain abortions just before the gestational deadline versus women who miss that deadline and are turned awayFoster hoped to paint a more accurate picture. Do the physical, psychological and socioeconomic outcomes for these two groups of women differ? Which is safer for them, abortion or childbirth? Which causes more depression and anxiety?
The study encompasses 30 clinics from 21 states across the country and nearly one thousand women. The only other precedent for a study on this scale on turnaway women was published in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s by American psychologist, Henry David. But the Achilles’ heel of his work was that “he did not have a proper control group to determine if a childs unwantedness rather than a poor family environment was the source of the trouble.”
But Foster’s study is not without its own Achilles’ heel. According to the New York Times story, Foster reports that there are more negative consequenceshealth-wise, emotionally, psychologically, and financiallyfor the women who carry the child to term as compared with those who were able to get abortions close to the gestational cut-off.
Where the turnaways had more significant negative outcomes was in their physical health and economic stability . . . . Adjusting for any previous differences between the two groups, women denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later.
Because new mothers are eligible for government programs, Foster thought that they might have better health over time. But women in the turnaway group suffered more ill effects, including higher rates of hypertension and chronic pelvic pain (though Foster cannot say whether turnaways face greater risk from pregnancy than an average woman).
Of course a new mother will experience sleepless nights, trouble feeding, and high levels of stress, especially if she is a poor, single teen. Should she kill the baby to avoid the stress? That single teen moms will be overwhelmed is an argument for chastity and greater charitable outreach to women in this situation, not abortion.
It is regrettable that women in this situation are widely treated, as in this NYT story, as victims of “creeping pregnancy.” “The pregnancy,” says the NYT, “had crept up on S.” It’s funny; S., having been “a strong believer in birth control” and a former sex ed teacher, should have known that having sex with your ex-boyfriend (i.e. in a relationship that has already failed) while off the pill sometimes results in pregnancy. But coming from an economically disadvantaged background, she cannot be assigned any responsibility for her actions. The implication is that the poor are incapable of moral judgment.
Third, and probably most obvious, Foster’s entire study has been conducted to evaluate the harm abortion and childbirth do to women with no regard for the unborn babies these women carry. Whether abortion takes an economic or psychological toll on women, it certainly takes a toll on the baby.
A new life in the womb is not, as S. calls it, “a ticking time bomb” ready to explode at any minute to destroy a woman’s life. It is a developing human person who if nature takes its course, will one day face ethical dilemmas of his or her own, and who will have a greater chance of succeeding ifrather than victimizedtaught responsible, mature, moral decision-making.