Twisting the Knife

The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—or Being Denied—an AbortionDiana Greene FosterScribner, 2020; 360 pages, $27.00 The quotation on the front cover of The Turnaway Study is at first puzzling. “If you read only one book about democracy,” begins Gloria Steinem, “The Turnaway Study should be it. . . . without the power to make decisions about our own bodies, there is no democracy.” “Odd,” a reader may think. “I thought this was a book about abortion, not politics.” The author, Diana Greene Foster (the lead researcher of the study from which the book gets its name), even asserts in one of the closing chapters that she “is not attempting to engage in a moral or political argument.” And yet she baldly and blatantly does so throughout, casting blame on conservative senators who restrict abortion access (at the behest, presumably, of their constituents) or who mandate that women be told of the risks of abortion before they undergo one. The point of the book is in fact highly political, so much so that the research team and the publishing bodies ignored some very serious flaws in the data in their rush to embrace the results. The Turnaway Study is the result of a six-year-long survey of women recruited at 30 abortion clinics nationwide. A team of researchers compared outcomes for those women who received an abortion with those who arrived at the clinic too late in their pregnancies and were “turned away.” The study was conducted by the group ANSIRH, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, which hails from the University of California, San Francisco. The ANSIRH team first recruited almost 1,000 women (956—even the subtitle of the book is not quite accurate) for participation in a series of follow-up calls over a period of five years, with questions gauging such things as their psychiatric well-being, financial status, employment, and how the abortion may have impacted the arc of their lives. Their findings, the researchers claim, should blow all “restrictive” abortion policy out of the water. Foster conclusively states, “We find no evidence that abortion hurts women. For every outcome we analyzed, women who received an abortion were either the same or, more frequently, better off than women who were denied an abortion.” Such women had better self-reported physical and (short-term) mental health, and were more likely to be employed, to be financially stable, to be in a stable romantic relationship, and to bear a wanted child later on in life than women denied a wanted abortion. Their existing children were even better off. (The finding on mental health was a bit more nuanced. Foster reports that women denied an abortion were initially a little worse off than women who received an abortion, but that those differences leveled off quickly.) Almost across the board, the study has been hailed as groundbreaking, with headlines from several major national pub
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