The lasting effects of aborting a first pregnancy
A new study found that women who abort their first pregnancies have more abortions overall
Women who abort their first pregnancy have, on average, four times as many abortions as women who carry their first pregnancy to term. They also have more pregnancies and more miscarriages but fewer births overall.
Those are the findings from a new peer-reviewed study published last month in the international journal Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology. The study adds to a growing body of research contradicting the narrative that abortion is a woman’s gateway to a better life.
Dr. James Studnicki led the study. He is the director of data analytics at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute and conducted the research alongside a handful of other pro-life scholars. It’s the latest in a series of research articles that use data from Medicaid claims to examine patterns in pregnancy outcomes among low-income women in the 17 states that funded abortion procedures between 1999 and 2015.
In it, Studnicki and his fellow authors narrowed the research to seven states that submitted full Medicaid claims data every year between 1999 and 2015. They also focused just on women who were or became 16 years old in 1999 and were eligible for Medicaid each year. The study followed their reproductive histories. Compared to women whose first pregnancies ended in a live birth, the researchers found women who aborted their first pregnancies had a higher likelihood of later abortions, 53 percent more miscarriages, and half the number of live births.
The study’s authors noted that abortions can cause problems in future pregnancies—some that can be life-threatening for the mother. Other research, they said, has linked abortion to increased risk of mental health problems and premature death from all causes, including suicide.
Studnicki said women who abort their first pregnancies “are predisposing themselves to a reproductive history that is filled with more pregnancies, more miscarriages, and more abortions, and the likelihood is fewer and fewer children.”
He said pro-abortion narratives commonly portray abortion as “a pathway to a happy family” or “a pathway to the American dream.”
“When I look at what Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry promotes about the positive aspects of abortion, it is obviously divorced from objective reality,” Studnicki said. “It’s simply misleading and, I think, dangerously misleading.”
A series of studies from the University of California, San Francisco, feeds this false narrative. The Turnaway Study features results from a series of phone interviews with about a thousand women in 21 states who sought abortions between 2008 and 2010. Some of them were denied abortions because their pregnancies were past the provider’s gestational limit. The researchers followed up a week after the women sought an abortion and then twice a year for five years.
One of the studies based on these findings reported that, of the nearly 600 women examined in this dataset, those denied abortions were less likely to try to become pregnant in the next year and a half after the birth than those who aborted. They also got pregnant fewer times overall and had a lower rate of intended pregnancies. The researchers concluded that obtaining a wanted abortion could help women have an intended pregnancy later.
But the Charlotte Lozier Institute study paints a fuller picture. Its findings are based on data from the reproductive histories of 5,453 women, not surveys. Similar to the Turnaway Study, it found that women who don’t abort their first pregnancies are less likely to get pregnant again and less likely to have more than one pregnancy. But it also found that a first abortion is a strong indicator of increased abortions in the future, not of increased planned births. Since these women were all Medicaid beneficiaries, they all automatically share a socioeconomic status, excluding the possibility that the women who got more abortions did so because of poverty.
Other studies based on the Medicaid data have also contradicted the pro-abortion narrative that abortion is common among mothers with living children. Analysis of the data showed that 93 percent of the births occurred to women who had not had abortions and that most of the mothers didn’t use abortion to delay a first birth or space their children.
Meanwhile, pro-life scholars have dismissed the Turnaway Study data due to flawed methodology. Dr. David Reardon, one of the researchers in the Charlotte Lozier Institute studies, notes that almost 70 percent of the women asked to participate in the Turnaway Study said no. On top of that, the researchers paid the participants, and about half dropped out before the end of the study, making it a nonrepresentative sample. He called it “self-censured bias, where women who have the most negative effects are taking themselves out of these studies.”
To Studnicki, the primary implication of the latest study’s findings is that abortion providers need to do a better job of informing women of the risks involved in choosing abortion. “Women who are having a first pregnancy need to understand that the decision that they make influences their entire reproductive history,” said Studnicki. “It’s not one-and-done.”
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