Health & Spirit

Study: Women's health worsened over 5 years after being denied an abortion

Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

And a 2018 study found that after a woman who already had young children sought but was denied an abortion, those children were slightly more likely to miss developmental milestones.

The latest study includes one particularly bleak statistic. Two of the 161 women who were denied an abortion died of causes linked to pregnancy or childbirth. None of the women who received abortions died of pregnancy or childbirth-related causes over the following five years.

Rates of maternal death have been rising in the U.S., and it is now close to one death per 1,000 cases of childbirth, or 0.1%. That's the highest rate in the industrialized world, and it's even higher among women in the study who were denied a wanted abortion -- 1.2%.

It's "just a very surprising thing," Ralph said.

She acknowledged that the small size of the sample, and some uncertainty about the exact circumstances of these deaths, make the finding preliminary.

Even beyond the postpartum period, death from any cause was more common in the overall sample of abortion-seeking women than it is for American women generally. Eight of the 1,132 women who enrolled in the Turnaway Study -- or 0.7% -- died in the following five years. Nationally, the mortality rate for women of reproductive age is 0.0005%.

University of Rochester nursing professor Susan Groth, who also studies the long-term effect of pregnancy, noted that the women in the Turnaway Study may not be representative of U.S. women as a whole, and that they may face greater health risks for some unknown reason.

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Still, she said the study's findings underscore a longstanding suspicion among many researchers: that "pregnancy is considered a 'stress test for life.'" It can reveal -- and even exacerbate -- a woman's health vulnerabilities that may increase her risk of future illness or early death.

If these suspicions are correct, she said, a woman who carries an unwanted pregnancy to term may suffer enduring damage that would have been avoided if she had been allowed an abortion.

When future researchers consider the "cost to reproduction" borne by women, that's something they should keep in mind, Groth said.

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